Google has been signaling in many different ways that the importance of links in their algo is waning while user experience is becoming more important. This change is just one more signal trying to get webmasters to stop placing so much importance on links and link building. I personally know of sites and pages that are ranking for terms of over 100,000 searches per month with less than 100 links pointing to them. Their on page SEO is not optimized however they are getting good user metrics. The pages and sites are on page 1. So I think this is less about subterfuge and conspiracy theories and more about a change in direction concerning how they are ranking sites.