Google has been building the next generation of SEO for quite a while now - gray area and darker.
All these changes aiming to punish websites instead of awarding is forcing more and more webmasters to look at shady tactics to prevent complete loss of income in the future. Intentionally or not, Google has made it so if you actually follow their guidelines you are as good as smoked, it's just a matter of time, just a matter of which update will crush you.
I remember a few years ago, those algo updates were about "awarding", not "punishing". After the update you would wait to see which websites got promoted, maybe yours would be among them? Today, the only thing you wait for to see is if your website got obliterated by the algo tweak.
The loosers are affiliate marketers whose only differentiation from each other and from the major retailers is in their attempts to game the algorithms.
You couldn't be more wrong. Anyone who has been in the affiliate game for a while has long been preparing contingencies for the algo changes. The one who is losing is the small guy with a website trying to sell his/her service/product. Once their website has been crushed - that's the end of it. You may be offering an awesome product or service, but if people can't find you when they look for it, what's the point?
I will give you a real life example. Let's say you repair watches. You are the only surviving watch repairman in your town. You have a small website with your address, services, and maybe a price list, it could be all on one page. Naturally your website is "TownNameWatchRepair dot com" but lo and behold, your website just got destroyed by Google, since it's an EMD with zero links to it, "looks spammy" and has only one page. After all, from where would you get a natural link to your website? The local bakery? You do watch repair, not seo. You can't pay someone to do the SEO for you, you are barely getting by as it is.
Now, I need to repair my grandpa's watch. I search google for "townName watch repair", but you are no longer there. So I end up clicking on the ads, mailing my watch out of state and getting the job done. Yes, I would be inconvenienced, but I wouldn't know it's google's fault, I'd just be mad that there are no watch repairmen left in my area.
Let's incorporate the affiliate in this scenario. An affiliate is working with, let's say, a large watch repair shop in Philadelphia and will have 10+ websites focusing on watch repair. Using a script, a page for "your_Town_watch_repair" is created, some text is sprinkled or maybe the affiliate actually wrote something coherent. Either way, out of the 10+ websites, one WILL remain ranking. So I end up clicking on the affiliate website, instead of the ads, and mailing the watch to Philly. The affiliate gets their $10 referral fee, the large shop gets the customer and the small guy is still going out of business. And all the small guy did was to have a "low-quality EMD"...
But if google was to still "award" instead of "punish", the local guy's website may not have been #1, but it would still be on the first page, I would've seen it and do some business with him.
And if you think this is a far fetched example and that the little guy with the great service always wins, just search for "watch repair new york". In a city of 8+ million, not a single watch repairman is listed in the organic first page...