1000heads: Google v Microsoft; a question of ethics

On a recent trip around the web last week, I came across this old post by one Steven Hodgson writing for WinExtra

He poses an interesting question: Why is it that what’s cool for Google is an ethical question for Microsoft?


I remember when Google surprised everyone who was attending one of their conferences that had to do with Android with a free smartphone that had the current Android OS installed on it. They did the same thing when the Nexus was launched much to the delight of the attendees.

At no time when this was happening did anyone do anything but cheer Google on for coming up with a great marketing idea and ya it was a great idea.

Yet when Microsoft does the same thing like they did at their E3 event to announce the new Xbox 360 suddenly we have CrunchGear suggesting that there are ethical questions that we should be considering.

At 1000heads we adhere to a strict ethical policy across all engagements; be that through fostering relationships between brands and communities or simply through outreach and / or disruptive product trials – and it’s in this latter section that we come to Google v Microsoft.

I say it again: it’s an interesting dilemma and I consider the two examples to be slightly different; on one side you have a large global search/software company (dressed up as Android) trying to get its (at the time still relatively new) operating system into the homes of developers globally and on the other you’ve got a big gaming brand trying to make the biggest splash at the world’s largest electronic entertainment expo (E3).

Who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong?

Ethics are a constant discussion point here at 1000heads and I’m proud to say that ALL of our staff work hard (and often argue passionately) about what is right and what is wrong.

In the case of Microsoft v Google, where do you stand?

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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

16 thoughts on “1000heads: Google v Microsoft; a question of ethics”

  1. There’s no difference – in that companies both give stuff away.  You could argue that Google was trying to break into a market whereas Microsoft was just doing a relaunch.

    The ethical issues come in to play when you look at the behaviour of the participants.  Microsoft have repeatedly been censured for unethical and/or illegal behaviour – Google, so far, have not.

    You may just as well ask if there’s a difference between – for example – McDonald’s and The Ritz both offering a “kids eat free” promotion. Both are giving away food and expecting something in return. But the past behaviour of one party gives rise to serious ethical questions.

    James Whatley Reply:

    Would it be fair to say then, based upon that line of thinking, that ethical behaviour in this instance should be judged on past offences?


    TerenceEden Reply:

    Yes. Past behaviour is a reasonable predictor of current intent.
    There’s a difference in giving tools to developers – as Ben points out.
    There’s an understanding that goes with a review copy or loan.
    Giving out free stuff to journalists and bloggers on the direct or implied understanding that it will generate positive press is a bribe.

    Now, that’s not to say that Google – or any other company – are perfect, but Microsoft is a serial offender.


    That said, I’m off to a Windows Phone 7 event this afternoon – for industry analysts and then to a developer event.  I would certainly like like to receive a free phone.  But I’m aware of the strings which are implied when you accept something as an analyst – vs as a developer.

    Loudmouthman Reply:

    So your saying the strops and hissy fits that I threw as a three year old are indicators of my behavior now that I am nearly 40 ? well screw you mr poopy head ! 

    However I accept that you Mr Eden are far more enlightened and take the whole approach over the single events.  

  2. Google were fine – they gave development tools to developers (and any other hangers-on who happened to be in the room). Microsoft weren’t – they gave the free devices to media representatives who would have ready access to review samples anyway.

    Buying your business partners / customers is fine. Buying your press commentary (or rather trying to – I doubt this made a substantial long-term impact) isn’t*.

    Having said that it’s a rare lapse from MS who – for any other sins they may have committed in the past – have top notch people.

    * In my view. My opinions are worth what you paid for them.

    DominicTravers Reply:

    Mr Smith hits the nail squarely on the head…

    Ben Smith Reply:

    No charge this time.

    Teddy Keefe Reply:

    Further to this – and a week late I know, sorry! – I don’t think it’s fair to say that Google are in the clear because they gave it to developers rather than media reps. Surely amongst those developers were a lot of key influencers who are equally – if not more – important in terms of WOM and opinion to the target audience?

    I still think it’s acceptable in both instances, but regardless of whether it is or not, distinguishing between official media reps and unofficial influencers isn’t meaningful – either both instances are acceptable or neither.

  3. well devices are quite essential for dev’s –  it’s a different beast. Nokia did it at developers summit.  this year we all got samsung tablets at IO (and chromebooks to follow) this is doubly needed as the tablet emulators are close to unusable in real life.  Sony gave away £3000+ plus 52 inch tv’s to everyone in the queue at HMV launch party for PS3.  As long as it’s disclosed it’s no issue.

  4. In an ideal world the reviewer would always have the exact same experience an average consumer would – so no review events, no junkets, and no free products.

    However, since this is never going to be the case, consumers have to make a value judgement – do I trust and respect this reviewer enough to believe their review will be untainted by the preferential treatment they’ve recieved? If so, then it’s fine for them to accept gifts, if not then why read their content at all?

    This is true regardless of the size and reputation of the brand in question; there’s no Google v Microsoft. Admiring one PR stunt while criticising the other is blinkered at best and hypocritical at worst.

    James Whatley Reply:

    ‘Regardless of the size and reputation of the brand in question’ – spot on.

  5. One was a developers confernce the other a promotional event. At one the recipients were likely to create and build and play with the technology at the other the recipients would be likely to write something positive. 

    The ethical question should not be addressed to the companies handing out freebies but to the recipients receiving them . Are their ethics compromised in accepting free ( and notably expensive ) goodies ?

    Incidentally I have the morals and ethics of a backyard alley cat when it comes to being given free stuff from vendors and manufacturers but it doesnt mean I will lovel them any more for it. 

    Stephen Lamb(aka @actionlamb) Reply:

    Interesting discussion. I think Nik (aka Loudmouthman) hits the nail on the head. Journalists/bloggers are just like the rest of us. Some have high moral integrity. Others don’t. No journalist worth their salt would be swayed by a freebie.

  6. In the US you are supposed to disclose any relationship with a vendor and if you received anything in the course of interactig with a brand, etc.  Note this applies to bloggers, but not to journalists.  For the latter, they have been receiving free stuff for years.  Do you think Roger Ebert pays to watch a movie or James beard ever paid a restaurant tab?  But there is an applied ethics which all journalists follow.  Well, for the most part.

    In the case you referred to here James, it is devices being given to different audiences.  In some cases, those recipients may have told the world about it, in others they may not have.  Where Google gave devices to developers, may of them blog and tweet and tell their friends.  I surely never heard the end of it when I missed the Android user group launch in Chicago and missed getting a free Nexus One, especially from those who were here.

    I have interfaced with different agencies over the past few years and I will say that you folks at 1000heads do it right.  There are others who are a little more hands on than others, and some smother me!  And your approach not only helps you but the brand – the last thing a brand wants is adoption just because it gives free stuff out, as when that dries up…


    James Whatley Reply:

    Thanks for the kind words Mike, really glad to hear it.

    …and I agree re the different audiences point, however sometimes it might be the exact same thing just communicated differently – 😉

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