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AOL freebies, unkind remarks and a question of ethics

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

AOL freebies, unkind remarks and a question of ethics

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

My mother always warned me not to write anything when I was angry.

Give it time to cool off, she'd say.

But this time I'm going to ignore that advice and tell you what's bothering me. I'm very, very angry.

I got a note from a reader who saw last week's column about America Online.

This guy knew right away that he'd spotted a journalist with no ethics, and told me so.

And how did he know I was such a despicable creature? Because I had offered to ask America Online to send free signup kits to anyone who asked me to help out.

And because America Online has a policy of giving a few hours of free online time to anyone who signs someone else up.

I checked on this and it's true. I wasn't aware of it, and there's no reason I should have been aware of it. I use America Online for electronic mail and for keeping track of what's going on in the computer world, and never bothered to see what kind of little perks I could get if I really tried.

So I've written to the management of AOL to tell them I don't want their free time. I've always paid my way on AOL, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I should explain here that many journalists who cover computers have free accounts on the telecommunications services. Prodigy, for example, has offered me a free account a couple of times.

No thanks. I find it easier to say what I want when it's my wallet, not someone else's, that is at stake.

I've also told AOL that I want all the free time that they would have given me for helping readers to be placed in a pool of free time for all members of America Online. It's a good service, easy to use, and this would help a lot of people join the telecommunications revolution.

And that should take care of that. But there is something else.

The very idea that I have some sort of grubby claim on someone else's money upsets me greatly. Readers probably do not realize the way this column is written, so I'd better explain.

I write this on my own time. I do all the little services for readers on my own time, except for calls that come into the office. (And when they do, I try to keep them short.)

I don't get paid for writing this. I get paid for Technofile and Dr. Gizmo, but this column is done for free. It is, literally, my way of serving people who need help, advice and guidance.

Likewise, the Syracuse Newspapers Telesystem is a service I give to readers. I'm not paid to do it.

But even if I were making a bazillion dollars doing this, it would not be enough money to make me feel like reading such trashy mail as I got last week.

There are limits, and now I know where mine are.

(1997 note: I am now paid for all columns I write at the newspaper.)

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