Marketing_Guy - 11:46 am on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)
It seems to have been triggered from the fact that they've been specifically caught selling links *based on their PageRank*. Google can always have the defence that this manipulates their algo so they can take action against it.
Taking action against a site that sells ad space when Google offers a competing product in Adsense is a whole other anti-competitive ballpark though. A space that Google is edging closer to all the time, but never publicly sets foot in. The best they can do is strike fear into webmasters in cases like this by repeatedly refering to the entirely technical process of a penalty as being "our trust in the website has declined".
In this case Google has justification to penalise the site (i.e. evidence of wrong doing). The insinuations that there's a trust issue or links labelled as being sponsored are the cause are just to fuel speculation and paranoia.
More and more these days I think that Google's nickname of the "Chocolate Factory" and its religous undertones is increasingly appropriate.