Using Homeless People as Hotspots – Ethical Internet Marketing or Exploiting Vulnarable Human Beings?

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I’m still shaken after having read the story about homeless people that were used as wi-fi hotspots as a part of an Internet marketing campaign.

But I guess that what disturbs me the most is the fact that I cannot make up my mind totally: Is this wrong? It seems wrong! But yet, there are aspects…

The background story is that ad agency BBH, equipped 13 homeless people with a portable wifi-connection and made them available as hotspots for $2 for 15 minutes. The homeless were paid $20 per day for this. It was all a marketing stunt, and it arroused a lot of publicity.

But what about the homeless people. Were they harmed or helped? And how far would you go in your Internet marketing?

Homeless Selling Newspapers

Ethical Internet marketing or exploitClarence Jones, homeless. Photo taken from

In France, where we lived from 2000-2011, a growing part of the population became homeless. This was not due to natural disasters, like fires or tsunamis, rather a result of failed economical politics during at least the last 10-15 years. It is almost impossible to run a small company in France, due to taxes, fees, tax collectors, and other inhuman authorities. Somewhere in France, there’s a farmer comitting suicide this very moment. And tomorrow, another will follow in his footsteps. And so will another farmer the day after tomorrow. 360 farmers commit suicide in France every year, because everything has been taken from them. Even the tools they need to survive.


Oh, and it’s not only the farmers that are hit. A couple of weeks ago, a man entered the tax office and gave them a note. It said: You wanted my skin? Now you got it.

Then he went outside and shot himself.

So the streets in France are flooded with homeless people. Some of them beg, but many of them is just living there. Some has a blanket, others a tent. If you catch a glimpse of their eyes, you’ll see a blown out candle. There are no lights. No enthusiasm. Only hopelessness.

I once encountered a homeless that sold a newspaper. Obviously I bought one. The money would help the homeless community at least a little bit.

So – wouldn’t it just help the homeless make money to equip them with gear to turn them into wifi-hotspots?

Controversial – But Helping People

Some argue that although this ad campaign is controversial, at least it is helping the homeless and making their problem visible to others. This is the opinion of Marketing Week:

Homeless hotspots isn’t the only such initiative drawing public interest this week, however. Mark Ritson draws attention to another – a film, Kony 2012, that attempts to raise awareness of guerilla warfare in Uganda. With over 74 million views on YouTube alone, the film has also received heavy criticism for its alleged oversimplification of the issues.

Both Kony 2012 and BBH’s initiatives may be controversial but at least they are using the qualities of new media and marketing to help people make ambitious social changes. That spirit alone is creditable.

True, they are paying $20 per day to the homeless, but isn’t it still just to take advantage of vulnerable people, just like when some companies have their products made in China where they can pay people a cup of rice per day’s work?

I realise that I start to sound like a leftie, which I’m not. I’m just against exploiting people.

Paying Poverty Wages is NOT the Way to Make Connections

The New Statesman agree upon the fact that it’s important to make connections. But they don’t subscribe to the point of view that the ends justify the means:

The spectacle of people who have fallen on hard times being used to help others “get connected” is a ghoulish pastiche of the notion of the internet as a great social leveller.

We live in an age of dazzling innovation and desperate inequality, and yes, we probably do need to make better connections to one another — but paying the homeless poverty wages to stand around whilst the rest of us check Facebook is no place to start.

Clance Jones on the picture above seems happy with the situation, but how much choice does he have? Does he have more choice than the Chinese who work 20 hours per day, seven days a week for less than what we pay for a cup of coffee? Is it okay to “help” people in this way? Or is it just exploiting weakened human beings and in fact keeping in poverty?

What is your opinion? And would you change your mind if it had been the homeless people who came up with the idea of selling themselves as hotspots?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

1 thought on “Using Homeless People as Hotspots – Ethical Internet Marketing or Exploiting Vulnarable Human Beings?”

  1. I actually think it’s a good idea Britt as long as the homeless in question are being belittled in some way.

    Once a person sinks so low as to become homeless it’s going to be hard to get a foot back on the ladder to employment again. This could be the first rung for them.

    That extra money each day could give them the chance to kit themselves out with clothes to get to an interview, get cleaned up and find accommodation. Get ‘back on the treadmill’ so to speak.

    Hmm… ‘The treadmill’. Perhaps they are on the streets because they wanted to get off the bloody thing in the first place!

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