There's a Mouse Loose on the Net

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First it cleaned up Times Square, now the Disney Corporation plans to do the same for the Internet. At an online industry conference Monday of more than 400 companies, most notably itself and AOL, Disney will announce the launch of a new search engine that will include only Web sites screened by Disney employees. The Yahoo-style site will be up and running by 1998, and promises to be the most extensive and kid-safe engine of all. "If families feel (the Internet) is not a family place, there's no way it's going to become as popular as television," Jake Winebaum, president of Disney Online, told the Washington Post.

Yes, but is it also going to become as bland and tedious as television? There's no word yet on which sites will get the Disney seal of approval, or whether news sites will receive special dispensation from Walt's boys to speak as freely as necessary. "Filtering mechanisms prevent children from obtaining a great deal of useful and appropriate information," says a new report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. They should know in tests on engines not unlike Disney's, searches for, say, "American Red Cross" blocked 90 percent of all sites mentioning the name.

Still, a Disney search engine no matter how widely used would only be one of many. And AOL's Steve Case who also plans to introduce filtering software Monday points out that at least the industry is being seen to do something. "Regulation is not necessary," insists Case. Congress, where men even more powerful than Disney execs reside, awaits convincing proof.