They've been trying to better interpret regular text and it would be a tweak to start treating anchor text the same way as regular text would it not? Also, they clearly say something was deprecated, you can't rule out the markup part being what was deprecated or the fact that link buying/selling is a problem that would be resolved by eliminating traditional links.
Fortunately there is a simple test. If you have one, turn off all your 'similar links' or 'related content' links sitewide and see if traffic heads south. I did on one site and search traffic has not changed in two weeks. While not definitive it does underscore how unimportant the similar links section was in ranking pages. (bounce rate up 3%, but no search traffic loss)