In my opinion they are. If you think about it, there are very few legitimate reasons to have a run of site link with competitive anchor text. However, I don't feel they are penalizing run of sites that don't have competitive keywords in it. My suggestion for web designers who want to advertise their business, use your URL or company name.
My evidence are the sites I run on my own. I dropped a couple ROS links I had, and actually moved up the following month on a couple sites. I've had sites do very well and not be sandboxed for months, only to have them get thrown in after I put a ROS link somewhere.
I think ROS links is the easiest way for Google to determine if your site is trying to game the system.