Reports that Google does not like paid links have been around for a long time. Sites known to be buying links will be punished for trying to game the search results.... etc etc.
Really? Then perhaps someone can explain to me why media agencies acting for Expedia approach thousands of webmasters with offers to buy embedded text links. Yet Expedia continues to increase their dominance of search results in travel and tourism niches.
Either Google cannot detect paid links like they claim, or they have selective vision.
The more I see of the outcomes from Panda, Penguin etc, the more I see search results that clearly elevate the big spender... (aka "Brand Names") even when their site is clearly inferior or they are blatantly in breach of Google's guidelines. Many other posters are seeing similar results in their own niches so this is not an isolated rant.
<Conspiracy theory starts here>
If Google can devalue affiliate sites and pages to the point of being worthless, the sites will probably change to Adsense to generate some income.... Google wins.
With affiliate sites no longer generating bookings, the merchants will need to look elsewhere to find business and that road leads to Adwords.... Google wins.
If Google elevates their major Adwords spenders in the search results, they reward those clients and keep them out of the clutches of Facebook and Bing.... Google wins.
I'm seriously beginning to wonder if the modern definition of spam has become "anything that stands between Google and the money"