An ad agency is nixing its strategy to use the homeless as wifi hotspots amid public backlash.
BBH’s experiment, dubbed “Homeless Hotspots,” launched during the South by Southwest tech-and-entertainment confab in Austin, drawing complaints from critics who viewed the gimmick as exploitative.
In an interview with The New York Post, BBH chairman Emma Cookson said the company has pulled the plug and will not go forward with plans to continue the project in New York.
“We have no definite, specific plans yet, in New York City or elsewhere,” she said. “This was an initial trial program.”
“We are now listening carefully to the high level of feedback, trying to learn and respond, and we will then consider what is appropriate to do next,” she added.
At SXSW, more than a dozen homeless people were outfitted with wireless routers and T-shirts declaring: “I’m a 4G hotspot.”
While the effort, which was not associated with the festival, was crafted to provide a digital connection for SXSW Interactive partipants and a charitable service to the city’s homeless, outrage quickly gained momentum on social media and among homeless-rights activists.
The four-day trial concluded on Monday afternoon, with the door left ajar to expand the project into various cities. But that’s a no-go, for now.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cookson issued a statement to THR maintaining that “Homeless Hotspots” was “always intended to be a short pilot program that would run throughout the weekend of the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, beginning Friday, March 9 and ending on Monday, March 12.”
“Even as heated debate built on Sunday night, it was the homeless volunteers themselves — with support from our partners at Front Steps — who insisted on seeing it through to the last day as an opportunity to set the record straight and share their personal perspectives on the program,” Cookson wrote in an e-mail. “As they took their passion and commitment to the streets, we were deeply inspired to see the program through its entirety as planned.”