Re: I hate to break it to you
Actually having looked into this particular case, I agree they should be punished, on first read, where the article wrote "that such quid-pro-quo arrangements were only for blogs that posted relevant articles". That bit caused me to think it was the normal practise.
But looking into the actual content that company sent to the bloggers, it actually made no mention of putting in relevant content.
So I blame the statement in the artcle. My view on link building still stands though, the key part is you must have relevant content.
This isn't bad SEO, it's done because it works by utilising the PageRank "pollination" system Google has and because pretty much everyone does it, the "natural" order is arguably preserved except for small portals that are run by people who have no clue how the web works.
I won't waste my breath explaining more to people who are clueless, naive and are just looking for news to bash. But know that you are also bashing WWF, RSPCA, Greenpeace (or basically all charities with reputation) and conglomerates like P&G (and all their brands underneath) as much as every advertising agency in existence, even social media sites like Facebook and ironically Google itself.
I'm not justifying the practise's morality, that's for others to discuss, but you can't stop it - full stop. No matter how hard Google or anyone tries. As I said - in this case the company used bloggers, the bigger companies would use charities or even the press - and it's basically the same thing. Discuss or hate to your heart's content, link building is a SEO practise you can't stop.