Give ’Em Straight Answers

I would love to love Al Gore.

George W. Bush makes me squirm (I think it’s the smirk). I have issues with John McCain.

But every time I try to snuggle up with the Vice President’s politics, I wind up feeling cheap and used. This is especially true regarding the Internet.

Recently, I tried to complete a series of stories (for another publisher) on the presidential candidates’ stands regarding Internet issues. As Vice President, Gore can affirm or deny any Clinton policies, and since he’s been VP since 1993, this makes him a blank slate insofar as the web goes. (McCain, by contrast, is an open book.)

So for safety’s sake, I asked the campaign for their stands regarding important Internet issues like taxation, filtering, speech rights, and privacy. They told me to fax them specific questions, and I did. A week after my deadline I got a fax back saying they wouldn’t answer the questions.

My next stop was the Gore web site. The site is filled with rhetoric, but what it’s saying is often beyond me. Take for example the following sentence, which concludes what Gore calls his “technology platform.”

“As we move into a new century and a new millennium, let us take that same sense of wonder, that same sense of discovery, and that same sense of courage to make real the values that more than twenty centuries of human evolution have aspired to create – to promote freedom, to educate our children, and to lift our families and our nations up.”

Does anyone have any idea what that means? I’m stumped.

Inside that document you will, if you look hard, find something that looks like a firm, and even controversial stand. This is Gore’s call for an “Electronic Bill of Rights.”

Let me quote again from the document: “It includes the right to choose whether personal information is disclosed; the right to know how, when, and how much of that information is being used; the right to see it yourself; and the right to know if it’s accurate.” Now that sounds like he’d extend the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act to Internet advertisers like DoubleClick and to the medical industry. But I’m not sure, and Gore’s not saying.

All this does have a news angle (besides the fact that the so-called national primary, a.k.a. “Bradley’s Last Stand,” comes up next Tuesday). It seems that last week the Vice President was in Oakland, Calif., promising (among other things) “Internet access for all.”

Well, the natural question occurs – what kind of access? Is he promising unfiltered access, or filtered access, and if it’s filtered access, who will control the filter? Will the federal government decide which web sites the poor can’t access, or will this be left to local government? Will there be any redress if, say, a conservative library board forbids access to the site of Planned Parenthood?

I’m like any customer you find on your web site. I see what you’re selling, I’m interested, but I have some follow-up questions. I want to know more before I make a commitment. If you’re doing business online take a hint from Gore’s big mistake. Give straight answers to your prospects, and you’ll turn them into customers.

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