Ethics questions for Thanksgiving: Disney vs. China and

"It is unusual for a nation to issue what was essentially a threat against an American entertainment company."

-- Bernard Weinraub, writing in today's New York Times about the Chinese government asking Disney not to release its unfinished movie Kundun about the life of the Dalai Lama.

I am worried about China, and glad that Disney seems to be taking the tough stand and will release Kundun here in the States after all. China's government threated to thwart Disney's various plans to expand into the Chinese market if Disney would continue with the movie.

This latest attempt at information control is just another in a long line of Chinese censorship blasts. Earlier in the year, we saw other actions to control the flow of any Internet information into and out of the entire country. China requires all Internet Service Providers to register and get their downstream Internet connection from the appropriate government ministry, and other countries have been talking about doing similar things.

Given that the movie (directed by Martin Scorsese, none the less) isn't even finished shooting or even close to being edited, it is a curious salvo indeed. Are the Chinese that worried about its message? Apparently so.

I won't get into the various abuses of the Tibetan people by the Chinese here, or the relative value and merit of various Disney movies. But this latest gambit sends a chill up my spine, and I cheer Disney for taking the right path.

This has been a week for other ethical decisions. After writing last week about several books that I recommend, I found out about the associates program at Amazon is one of the best sites around the net for finding and buying books, and received one of my rare Big Duck awards for excellence in web site design earlier this year.

The associates program is very clever: basically, if you qualify, (I'm not sure what the criteria is, but given the speed of my acceptance I don't think this is a very high hurdle.) you get an 8% commission for every book that you sell from your web site. This is done by having a link from my site directly into the catalog at Amazon. If you click on my link to them and buy the book, I get the commission.

Think about how potent a marketing deal this is: if you trust my editorial judgement, I now can directly drive sales of these books. And Amazon wins as well -- they have lots of potential reviewers sending people directly to their catalog.

Now think about the ethical decisions here: do I, as a journalist, want to be profiting from pushing product, even a product like a book? What about if I pan the book here (but still put the link to Amazon) -- will that mean that you will be less likely to buy it and so influence my critical opinion of the book?

Hmm. All of these ethics calls are getting harder and harder to make. So what to do? Well, I signed up for the associates' program, mainly in the interest of seeing how it works. And I went ahead and added the links to the books reviewed in my last Web Informant.

But to ensure that I can sleep at night, I want to tell you that all the dough I receive as a result of these commissions will be donated to charity. Really. So look for more book reviews in the coming issues of Web Informant, and go ahead, check out my reviews again and buy a book!

Self promotions dep't

As usual, I've been busy writing. This week was my first article for LAN Times called, "The Net: Groupware's Best Friend." I looked at various web-based forum and discussion servers.

If you are interested in locating more of these products, here is a table of links to about 25 or so of them.

And in Infoworld, "Meridian enables CD ROM sharing via your browser," my review of the CD Intranet Server that is part web server, part CD ROM server, and part end-table.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, if you are celebrating it.

David Strom

+1 (516) 944-3407

entire contents copyright 1996 by David Strom, Inc.