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Free directories, articles, 3 way links. Think of it as a 3 legged stool. If you sit on it it will not likely fall over.
Googles algo updates can be rough, but if you diversify your links, you should survive it fairly intact.
Negative seo is unfortunately much easier these days. The more g tries to tighten the screws on link builders and off site optimization, the more power they are giving the morally bankrupt among us.
It Makes sense though, the real businessman that builds a quality site and service is MUCH MORE likely to spend on adwords than the average scraper/script black hat kiddy. Penalize the good sites and they will be forced to spend more money on adwords, while putting these quality sites at the top of the serps will make g less money.
It's silly to think google gives a hoot about your business to protect against such antics.
What so no unique content,
...however, lets say that you have an article and it is added to 100 article directories with a link this articles link juice is going to be negated because it is not orginal text - would you agree?