As it affects users.
This morning, I was on Reddit, I’m often there, trying to help/learn something new. I did come across something that caught my eye.
The Reddit link pointed to an article on Search Engine Journal entitled WordPress Suspends Astra Theme – Affects 1 Million Users.
Intrigued, I read the article, take a look at it yourself if you’d like.
I don’t have a screenshot of the code in question, I’ve taken a screenshot of the SEJ article:
The Crux of the matter:
The Astra WordPress theme has been removed from WordPress.org for injecting affiliate links into the free version of its theme. In fact, it’s been suspended for five weeks and will not be available until the 11th of September.
That leaves over 1 million users (active installs of the Astra theme) in the dark.
In happier times
It wasn’t so long ago that Brainstorm Force (the people behind the theme) celebrated 1+ million installs; actually, it was on the 14th of July they posted about:
“Celebrating 1 Million Active Installs! The Highest Number Any WordPress Theme Has Achieved.”View post on WP Astra
Unfortunately, for BSF (Brainstorm Force), this celebratory milestone has been cut short.
The WordPress themes team called into question their usage of affiliate links in the free version of the Astra.
Q&A With William Patton from the WordPress themes team
Rather than conjecture and disinformation, I’ve asked William Patton (themes team rep) a few questions for fact-checking.
Q. When did the theme review team spot this?
Yesterday around midday. The theme was suspended, and the author contacted about 2 hours after first spotting it.
Q. Did they provide a disclaimer about the free version containing affiliate links?
There was no disclaimer at all about the links and no mention of them adapting links provided by other plugins.
Q. So effectively, they were (dare I say it) breaking the law by not providing a disclaimer?
Yes, it’s been mentioned more than once that there is a possible law break or stepping on the wrong side of some regulations from lack of disclosure.
I don’t know the specific law details exactly, but it sounds pretty bad. One person mentioned it could be considered ‘fraud’ under some regulation, but I don’t know enough about that to say if it is or not.
Q. There’s an implication though, I mean, if a user isn’t aware of the fact if they purchase through the theme recommendations that the theme will profit, that’s bad, right?
Yup, it’s definitely a bad thing to be doing. The actual legal aspect of it though I’m a bit hazy on.
Q. Some might say that 5 weeks is a long time to suspend a theme, what do you think?
One week per affiliate tracking link was the decision. Personally, I think such a long period is quite harsh, but it is a severe situation that warrants a severe way to discourage it from being a recurring thing.
Q. It should have been six weeks, then, right? There were six affiliate links by their admission.
When we looked at it initially, we saw 5; however, we could have miscounted. The decision to go with the five weeks seemed to fit the situation, though.
Q. Where there any other courses of action that were discussed?
We discussed contacting them first, but that was decided to not be effective based on past experience with authors in the top 10 list.
When they have large user bases, theme authors fight hard to make no changes claiming that changing things with such large numbers of users might negatively affect their business.
We have started discussions with other teams about having alternative ways to handle disciplinary actions because, currently, we only have the option to suspend or to ask nicely repeatedly. Asking nicely does not work as often as it should 🙁
Q. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
Basically, a similar situation occurred about two years ago (different theme author).
That situation meant we added a guideline specifically excluding affiliate links in themes.
After we added that guideline, Astra added the first affiliate tracking code – they added the code 18 months ago. They added more over time, as well.
Whatever you think about the situation, whether you’re a theme/plugin developer, losing your WordPress.org presence will hit hard.
With the freemium model accounting (I’m guessing) for a large percentage of Astra premium theme purchases, there is no doubt this will affect their bottom line.
That said, let’s not beat around the bush here.
What they did is wrong, very wrong. Whether you’re a fan of the Astra theme, a blogger extolling it’s wonder to others, you’ve recommended something that takes advantage of users (inadvertently might I add).
From my own personal viewpoint, I’d never use Astra again. Hey, it’s my blog, and it’s my view, OK?
I cannot trust a company that:
A) Went openly against the guidelines that the review team put out.
B) Kept adding more despite the guidelines.
It’s shady, you cannot tell me in all good conscience, that BSF didn’t discuss ways to maximize revenue? Discussed openly about adding these affiliate links in to make more money, in case someone doesn’t upgrade to Astra Pro?
Come on, seriously?
With over 1 million active installs, adding affiliate links to the mix and getting referral payments from users (unbeknown to users) is morally wrong.
Couple this with no disclaimer?
Well, I’d be surprised if this didn’t escalate; further, it’s only a matter of time.
I’ve seen many people on Twitter, stating that this has left users in a state of flux, especially with WordPress 5.5 dropping later this month.
The simple fact of the matter is this:
Astra got caught, whether you agree with it or not, the guidelines are there for a reason.
The top ten that William mentions, well, they have ruined it for every other theme/plugin developer/company, it’s their actions that have bought about these guidelines.
Over to you
What do you think? Do you use the Astra theme? How has this affected you? Let me know with a comment. Keen to get your side of the story.