TECH JULY 29, 2013
According to his Twitter profile, Francis Pedraza, founder of Everest, seeks to lead his team "towards our vision of unlocking human potential." It's an interesting goal to consider in light of what Pedraza said last week. As Valleywag's Sam Biddle spotted, Pedraza praised the founders of Snapchat (a disappearing-text service) for apparently doing some of their beta testing on homeless people. "When I asked [Snapchat founder] Evan for the story of how and why they built the product, he talked about how they would do stuff like build something, showed it to RANDOM people — like homeless people — and watched them use it, with no explanation or guidance," he said. "Then they would ask questions, gain some insight, and iterate."
There's something queasy-making about the idea that homeless people are being used, essentially, like lab rats, exploited for their very out-of-stepness with society. It's not the first time the tech world has shown a tendency to view the homeless as more tools than people. In 2012, homeless people were turned into wireless hotspots at the South by Southwest tech conference. They were paid, but that didn't stop the service from attracting a whole lot of criticism (along with the occasional defender). It's tough to draw conclusions about an entire industry from a few isolated incidents, of course, but what's troubling about both of these anecdotes is that an industry that seeks to enhance and improve the human experience seems willfully blind to what it means to dehumanize someone.