Thursday, December 28, 2006

Notes on a Scandal: The Microsoft+AMD Acer Ferrari Vista Laptop Giveaway

No, not the movie, I just liked the title for this post.

I am talking about the Christmas gift that Microsoft and AMD put together for a bunch of bloggers and influencers. Not clear how recipients got "on the list", but here is a sampling:

Laughing Squid - Scott Beale
Notgartner - Mitch Denny
Ed Bott
Marshall Kirkpatrick - Now MS wants he laptop back
Robert McLaws

I think this story started to explode when Scoble linked to Scott Beale, called it PayPerPost. Since then Scoble posted again saying he thought this was a great PR move, but the key question from a blogger ethical point of view was did you disclose? People are calling the "gift" a bribe.

Full Disclosure: I did not receive a laptop :-). If I had, I would have immediately disclosed that I had, any communication received from Microsoft, and what my intention was to do with the laptop (charity sounds like a great idea).

What would I have done if Apple had sent me a MacBook Pro for "review" and to keep it if I liked as MS has done? You have to disclose, and then you can't keep the machine. It really is that simple. Just because the "bribe" would be better since it would be a MacBook Pro instead of the Acer Ferrari doesn't mean you compromise your integrity. Handouts of any kind cloud your judgement, it really is that simple, which is why Ed Bott's stand against gifts is the only sensible option, but he's wrong that bloggers shouldn't be held to that standard just because they don't have journalism training. Bloggers can't have it both ways, you can't be journalist when it suits your needs, but bloggers when your getting gifts. Here is a link to The New York Times Ethics Guide (PDF) from 2004. Look at the "Accepting Hospitality from Sources" section for guidance on receiving gifts, in short don't unless completely impractical to the situation. Paying for Vista and your own hardware to review it is not impractical.

What really prompted me to post though was the unrepentant post by Robert McLaws on this situation. Here is an amazing quote:
When I got the e-mail giving me a choice betwen a couple systems, I was told that I could either give the system away, or keep it for myself. Being the selfish greedy b@stard that I am, and having dealt with the crappiest Tecra M4 in the world, I decided to keep mine. So, some people think that's bribery. Fine. Some people think the Holocaust didn't happen, too. You get SWAG for going to a conference, why is this any different? I was a Microsoft MVP for 3 years, which was a reward for past efforts with Microsoft software, trips, and buttloads of NDA information. Is that bribery too?
Yes Robert, that's bribery too. To even mention the Holocaust as passingly relevant to the giveaway discussion is disgusting. Here is the MS MVP FAQ, look at Q&A 6:
Q6: Do Microsoft MVPs receive any payment from Microsoft? A6: No. The Microsoft MVP Program does provide a small award of software and other benefits in its core program offering, but MVPs do not receive any monetary payment from the Microsoft MVP Program.
Somewhat stunning that MS does not equate software and benefits here with monetary compensation, when software handouts have been using to settle antitrust lawsuits, which is obviously compensation. In the MS MVP case, you were compensated for you time with gifts and a title.

Have I ever received something for my time in online community work that influenced me? Yes I have. Back when MS was launching their Broadband Networking hardware, I bought one of the 802.11b wireless routers. It didn't work with the Pacific Bell DSL I had because of some bugs with PPP dialing. I got into the newsgroups and provided logs, traffic captures, and general debugging to MS and the few other people that where in the San Francisco Bay Area having the same problems with Pacific Bell. One day I came home from work to find an 802.11g beta wireless router from MS for my "time" debugging, which I used and upgraded to retail code until I got my first Airport Express (for the streaming, my first Mac worked fine with the MS router). Did receiving the free router influence me? You bet, when I had thoroughly tested and debugged it, I recommended it to friends, and I moved a few SKUs. I would never have bought the 802.11g MS router because of the problems with the first one. If you haven't used your own money (or your publisher's money) to purchase products that your review, I think it's pretty obvious you are more kind to the product you are reviewing/using than if you had spent the money yourself. If Robert McLaws had to replace his crappy Toshiba Tecra M4 to run Vista properly out of pocket, it may not have changed his opinion all that much, but he would have been starting with a different mindset, and that makes all the difference.