If you've been following the news lately on the Blogger fiasco, it's amazing. Apparently Microsoft sent laptops to some Vista bloggers, no strings attached. You can see coverage, a blogger's view, and a blogger saying Microsoft has reversed position. We've got Scoble's viewpoint, a complaint as well as a thread on Slashdot. Want to guess what they think over there?
I've got a few opinions on this. Mostly because this hits close to home for me as writer. First, I don't think there's anything wrong with Microsoft sending these out. After all, review machines are standard and they are disclosing what most reviewers don't. That they aren't going to ask for the hardware back. Even Dan from APC notes that manufacturer's don't ask or get their hardware back.
Second, it's definitely a bit of a conflict of interest to accept the gifts. There's not two ways around it. It's the big reason I stopped writing reviews since I was accepting advertising money from vendors. There was just no way to be impartial when you're tied to the vendor.
So do I think it's wrong? I really don't. My opinion is that anyone writing about a product and receiving a product from a vendor should disclose that. I also think that most journalists don't disclose how much influence vendors have. Even when you write for a newspaper, if you think the car dealers and other advertisers can't influence what goes in the paper, you're naive. No one is immune from influence; it's human nature.
So would I accept the laptop? Send one and see . Actually right now I'd probably give it away here at SQLServerCentral. I've got a nice late model laptop, two desktops, kids have a desktop, wife has two machines, we've got too much computing power at the dkRanch as it is. And I think it's cool when I can give stuff away. However if this were 5 or 10 years ago when I didn't have a company or laptop, I'd probably keep it and disclose that fact as well.
The bottom line is that you only have your reputation and I hope people have learned enough to trust others as they read their writing. And I hope that writers can be strong and stick to their ethics.
Anyway, if you want to debate ethics, maybe you should start here with Wal-Mart managers.