fathom - 3:59 am on Apr 13, 2012 (gmt 0)
I think you're implying that if I did a Google search for [link sellers] or [linking schemes], or had an email conversation using my Gmail account discussing linking schemes, all while having my website in Google Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics, and then Google notices a sudden increase in links pointing to my website, that they could reasonably determine that I am responsible for those links.
Let's be clear... many here spin the evil competitor saga to refute "google can't tell"... you aren't a person you are an IP and everything that happens on that IP stinks of "owner".
It's a logical scenario, but it's also based on no evidence that I am aware of, nor have you provided any in support. It's 100% speculation. Even worse, it comes off as a "Big Brother is watching you" style conspiracy theory. I don't think it currently qualifies as a valid explanation.
So a malicious imaginary competitor is an acceptable speculation based on no evidence that one exists while Google (which we all know sent the message) and 100% involved is unacceptable speculation based on the same thing.
I get how the former is the stronger argument.
Edit: Also, I hadn't looked into the issue in any detail, but as far as I'm aware, it's never been confirmed (at least publicly) exactly who was responsible for J.C. Penney's spammy backlinks. That they didn't continue after the firing of their SEO company is a pretty good indication, but that's after-the-fact. If Google penalized them based on an accusation, that's a bit frightening.
Wow now there is a news flash.
Your SEO firm generated a 1/4 of a billion dollars in sales and your board of director as 100% oblivious to how this was achieved?
What happens behind private doors is rarely meant for public consumption... but no firm blindly makes those dollars without any executive review.