Our geeky sister was one of over 50 techies invited to Microsoft Search Champs V4. Attendees in the company's Redmond base heard about the new technologies in Vista. And the "Evil Empire" was quite kind to its visitors. Gina says they paid her expenses and "wined, dined and showered me with gifts," but with no quid pro quo that she had to write about it. But she did — as fairly as she could.

And even if many attendees weren't journalists, many were bloggers: Chris Pirillo, Robert Scoble [But he's from MS — Ed], Mary Hodder, Merlin Mann, Michael Arrington, and Tristan Louis, for example. All have a genuine interest in Windows' new products and services, and all were apparently free to speak their minds. Maybe an all-expense-paid trip could cloud even the purest minds, or maybe it's just the equivalent of an awesome sponsored conference.

Bloggers have run into payola accusations before, after taking favors from all kinds of benefactors. After the jump, three of the biggest incidents.

Blog Payola Controversies

1. Amsterdam: Blogads sent a team of client bloggers to tour Amsterdam. In exchange, Blogads clients ran premium ads for Dutch tourism and travelers posted a "Bloggers in Amsterdam" button on their sites. But no actual blogging was required.

2. Music groups: Slate blogger Mickey Kaus gave a positive review to a CD he got for free. A seemingly typical item became a talking point for leading blogger Ann Althouse, who wondered whether this was kosher. Meanwhile, many review blogs have strict "don't keep the merch" policies to avoid any accusations. (For what it counts, I've reviewed a couple of books now on my shelf. But I really liked them.)

3. Howard Dean: The presidential hopeful's campaign paid Markos Moulitsas Z
niga as a technological advisor. Markos posted it to his popular political blog, Daily Kos. But analysts such as Bill O'Reilly spun the retainer as a payoff for blogging.

Have an opinion on blog payola? Send $500 to tips@valleywag.com and I'll promote it.

Amsterdam Blogger Payola Scandal [Gridskipper]

Daily Kos Dean campaign consultancy [Wikipedia]

Bloggers promoting products [Ann Althouse]

Microsoft Search Champs V4 Report [Lifehacker]