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April 27, 2015
Google's policies are always "less-than-explicit" as are their algorithms for calculating rankings.
But experience has shown that there is usually a lot of leeway in terms of what Google will consider legitimate. This is because Google enforces a pretty strict interpretation of what is a good link (one that passes value) and a neutral or bad link. They do this by simply ignoring neutral or bad links in their ranking calculation for your pages.
But if your website experienced a spike as described above, in addition to the automated interpretation of the value of those links, your site would probably be visited by a human Google employee who would check to see if you were misbehaving.
Having irrelevant links isn't a crime, but it won't help you either.
Having a sudden spike in irrelevant links isn't a crime either, but could trigger a human inspection.
Keep in mind: links from "bad" sites (ones that have been found to be buying/selling links, using Google-prohibited methods, et cetera) will not hurt you either.
BUT, linking TO those sites can hurt you through a form of "guilt by association." This is since you can't control who links to you, but you can control who you link to.
Brief summary --- Keep your linking policy simple. If you would be proud to explain why you're linking to a website, then by all means link to them. But if you would be uncomfortable or unable to explain why you're linking to a site, you shouldn't be linking to them.
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