The internet collectively winced last week when a Prague-based charity announced a campaign to turn homeless people into wireless internet hotspots.
WiFi 4 Life wants to equip Prague’s homeless population with portable routers, so they can wander the city’s center offering free internet to passersby. The paying gig comes with perks, including food, accommodations, clothing, and even a haircut, but many are calling the initiative exploitative of a global crisis.
“The worst option would be not to try it,” Luboš Boleček, chairman of WiFi 4 Life, tells Tech Insider in an email. “If you can help others, [the] only question you have to ask [is] why am I not already doing it.”
WiFi 4 Life sought donations on crowdfunding site Indiegogo earlier this year, but the campaign flopped — raising a mere €388 euro. It relaunched last week, and has so far secured one backer, raising 1% of its €5,500 euro goal. Boleček says that he may proceed if this campaign is unsuccessful, as the Prague city government has expressed interest in the program.
Some took to Twitter to express outrage.
homeless people who are wifi spots, the world is a twisted place
— pinkman (@PinkmanRecords) November 5, 2015
An estimated 100 million people in the world are homeless, according to the last global survey by the United Nations in 2005. In the Czech Republic alone, roughly 30,000 people are without a roof over their head, and 100,000 more are classified as potentially homeless.
The country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs points to debt, family conflicts, release from institutional care, mental health problems, sexual and psychological abuse, and drugs and alcohol as some of the biggest risk factors that can trigger homelessness.
So, strapping a hotspot to a homeless person doesn’t seem like the most appropriate or productive response.
Three years ago, marketing company Bartle Bogle Hegarty caused a ruckus at technology conference South by Southwest when it announced a similar program. It outfitted volunteers from a local homeless shelter with routers and t-shirts that said “I’m a 4G hotspot,” and asked them to walk the most populated areas of the conference. Participants received $US20 at the end of the day.
Tim Carmody, blogging for Wired, called it “completely problematic” and “something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.”
Readwrite’s Jon Mitchell rammed against the company for leveraging the campaign as a publicity stunt, saying, “It was an honest attempt to help, but the chosen priorities left it with all model and no substance.”
“Some people say that we transform human beings into machines. But those people aren’t thinking out of [the] box,” Boleček says. “In Prague, there are some programs for [the] homeless. They are cleaning the streets for $US10 per day. Would you call them walking [brooms]?”
WiFi 4 Life has recruited one homeless person, 56-year-old Radim, to test the service in the streets of Prague. His experience has fuelled Boleček’s mission, reaffirming his belief that doing something “crazy” to combat homelessness is better than doing nothing at all.
“He told me it changed his life,” Boleček says. “People care more about him, talking with him and giving him more money than before.”
Boleček hopes to launch the first wave of hotspot officers, as the volunteers are called, in 2016.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.