How the Astra WordPress theme got suspended for cookie stuffing
A bit of a sonic boom has been sent through the WordPress plugin directory and users of the Astra network after the theme was withdrawn from the WordPress repository, which retains a list of free WordPress themes. The explanation behind this, as described by WordPress, seems to be that the Astra theme included their affiliate links inside the application, which is entirely not permitted under their rules.
Astra WordPress theme, popular WordPress theme
It’s been some days since the WordPress group was split. Astra WordPress theme that drives more than 1 million WordPress blogs in the world is being forced to close (penalized) for unlawfully inserting affiliate links into their free WordPress themes — without clearly showing disclaimers or words. Astra’s famous WordPress theme with more than one million active users has been discontinued for five weeks. The fine is in reaction to suspected breaches of the WordPress bans on the introduction of affiliate links to templates.
The connection to the approved Astra WordPress theme page reveals that the theme is not accessible from WordPress. Using the WordPress search method for finding the Astra template shows zero findings. The Astra theme is withdrawn from WordPress.org. As per the WordPress auditing framework, the Brainstorm Force (the parent company behind Astra WP) had been contacted multiple occasions about the problem but had provided little or no response/decision to fix the issue.
As the penalty took effect, the globe was hit by a storm — some of us did not know precisely what happened, and others started condemning the organization for an inappropriate move. Placing affiliate links without an explicit expression can lead to a range of legal problems in certain countries. We’re releasing this WordPress news as an opportunity to distribute the factual news that’s occurred, and hopefully, to send you some lights to everyone in the drama.
What happened to the Astra WordPress theme?
On 7 August 2020, a significant debate took place in WordPress, debating Astra and TRT Messenger (Theme Review Team Bot). Shortly after, the TRT Messenger released a patch on the Astra WP penalty and exclusion from the WordPress repository. The need to prohibit affiliate links was implemented a year and a half ago. WordPress was already debating both their official Irc channel and their blog for several days. As per WordPress, Brainstorm Force had prior alerts.
Response from the brainstorm force Astra about the suspension
Brainstorm Force, the Astra theme’s creators, replied that they did not add affiliate links to the subject itself. Therefore, since there are no affiliate connections in the template itself, they argued that the model is legally consistent with the WordPress guidelines. Brainstorm Force also admitted that the Astra theme included foreign power extensions to pass the promo link.
Sujay Pawar, a co-owner of the Brainstorm Power, has written an open apology on the Astra forum. This apology article, however, has generated its debate within the group. The present crisis was not the first reason. Pawar modified his original stance and dropped some of the earlier commitments he provided to the society. According to information and post updates, he pledged to commit 16 hours of work from one of the company’s top programmers to the Themes Group. In addition to this donation, he agreed to spend 5% of the company’s capital on free software creation and to contribute to potential Word Camps.
To some individuals in the room, changing the wording of the post appeared odd. He updated it at the same time that the theme was returned to WordPress.org. However, the problem was probably the result of a failed timing. Pawar came up about writing the initial statement and later getting rid of it.
Essentially, Brainstorm Force didn’t individually link affiliates through its theme. Conversely, the subject infused a company referral ID into affiliate links for third-party plugins while they were active on the user site page. In and of itself, these kinds of infusion are not a devious thing. Plugins themselves permit their affiliate links to be filtered, likely to encourage theme publishers to make a few bucks by endorsing and incorporating with them.
According to the Astra theme, the issue would be whether the Affiliate regulations have been infringed. When the policy was documented, the Themes group was most probably thinking about direct links inside the theme, not a situation where a template was inserting a referring ID or sorting a current plugin connection.
According to the Themes Group, at least two of the Astra association IDs were for extensions that the theme promoted but did not fully incorporate with or endorse in any way. In at least one case, the theme updates the database choice automatically for the Monster perspectives plugin to include an affiliate ID — the automatically updating of any server option before user intervention is usually not permitted.
Irrespective of the individual views on the Theme Team’s total ban on affiliate links, it is not a precise circumstance of authorizing or prohibiting doing so.
But did Astra theme designer include referral links?
An affiliate hyperlink enables individuals or a company to earn revenue from the endorsement of a product such as Astra. Astra is an open theme. Like other free WordPress plugins, they often offer paid variants that provide advanced capabilities that apply to professional publishers instead of informal bloggers. Brainstorm Force was adamant that they were not adding an affiliate code. They said that they only added “referral files” through third-party extensions. In their statement, WordPress related to code inside the Astra Theme that seems to view links from the standard Link Share affiliate program.
Was Astra team right by inserting a referral link on the source code? If they promote a theme on their platforms (out of the WordPress repository), then indeed, they have every right to use it.
Yet if they do have a theme inside the WordPress site, they have to abide by the rules one way or the other
Is Astra theme suspension live?
The suspension of the theme is real. The theme is no more accessible from the WordPress theme store for download. It implies that over 1 million Astra theme clients will not be free to customize their theme through WordPress for five weeks. Astra has stated that it has launched an improvement that eliminates the affiliate reference codes. They claim that this latest update complies with the WordPress guidelines. However, the version has to be installed directly from Astra or their GitHub repository. WordPress has effectively removed the popular Astra theme. Brainstorm Force requested that the suspension be lifted.
WordPress has already attempted to fix the problem before the suspension, it seems unlikely that Astra will be reinstated before the five-week disqualification is over.
The WordPress Themes Group does not have a lot of choices when it comes to disciplinary action for breaches of guidelines. It is primarily due to the shortcomings of the tools in use. The team only needs better resources.
Patton said the suggestion of suspension without intervention is ineffective. However, currently going through the suspension of a concept also has consequences for end-users. For certain situations, there might be an immediate security improvement required by users, but the suspension framework doesn’t quite make it easy to handle.
There is now an open Meta voucher to offer theme database administrators the ability to remove a theme. In turn, this will keep a theme like Astra accessible in the directory if anyone knows a direct URL. It will also allow the theme creator to provide modifications, such as security improvements, to clients without the Themes Group’s written permission. However, the theme will not be accessible via a list of common themes or a quest.
This provides the team with a much less drastic alternative than a total-on suspension and has no adverse disadvantages for current theme consumers.
At present, the team has found what they defined as a “hacky” way of effectively delisting Astra. Since the famous theme list algorithm uses the theme release date to help assess the theme’s reputation, the company turned this theme date to move it down to the popular genre list. It’s not the optimal option, but it offered a pure common ground between nothing and suspension, at least until a more sustainable solution is in effect. This also gives everyone an excellent chance to test the impact that such a step might have.
Were Astra’s team actions ethical?
The Astra WP theme is relatively inexpensive (Astra Pro is a paid version). “Relatively cheap” means needing money from somewhere to sustain development. Although premium plans are much better, there are still many people who are waiting for “free” instead of paying.
In this case, we concluded that the law has a hard line, and the Astra WordPress team is not legal. We should follow the rules-strictly with no membership.
After more than 18 months of debate, we think they have no reason to accept this kind of supervision.
With WordPress, punitive action has always been a joint effort of the team. On the one hand, they don’t want to suspend the framework of negligence, regardless of whether such misconduct was intentional or not. On the other hand, they will seek to provide a level playing field for all theme creators. If there is no follow-up, the threat of penalties for violating the rules sounds hollow. This is not a simple concept. The team leader can quickly become the victim of abuse or unnecessary personal information by the theme development team and external users.
How the WordPress theme team deals with suspensions
Some of the ways the Themes Group has dealt with this is by using a relatively secret identity while removing themes. This is the pathway the team has taken in delivering the suspension and follow-up judgments of the Astra theme.
The organization has dealt with threats on specific individuals overtime on difficult choices it has taken. For certain instances, the official who made a particular decision, regardless of individual position in it, bared the bad reviews’ wrath. Quite often, it was the case that the medium was fired, and the new reps sought an easy solution to this problem.
This is a platform that allows comments to be received without a single person being held responsible for a response. It is meant to prevent someone from receiving any negative review directly from an action.
What to do if you go affected by the Astra WordPress suspicions
Don’t worry, first. The template should still work, but you won’t be able to modify your WordPress plugin for five weeks. Astra said they would be working on an upgrade that would delete these referral codes, and Brainstorm Force demanded that the penalty be lifted.
That, being said, appears unlikely at the moment since there has been prior warning about the affiliate regulation.
Updates to the Astra theme would have to be downloaded straight from Astra or even from their live system before the suspension is lifted.
If you’re tech-savvy and run a humble blog, you can easily change your theme (remember to check, we’re not liable for something going wrong, etc.). You should only wait for it, too, if you like the Astra theme and would want to stick with it.
Nonetheless, if you are less technologically inclined, it would be good to disable automatic WordPress updates before the planned release of 5.5. To make sure it’s disabled, please.
You may have learned about the newly installed WordPress so far, but don’t know what to do next. When installing WordPress in your site, one of the most important things you need to do is to make your blog look beautiful, thereby installing a WordPress theme.
Steps to install Astra WordPress manually
Step 1: Go to the GitHub repository and install the new Astra WP theme.
Step 2: Go over to your WP-Admin and go to Themes » Appearances » Add Theme. Upload the Astra theme .zip file here.
Step 3: Finally, press activates once the theme has been uploaded. Now, you’ve got the new edition of Astra!
Themes are not allowed to have affiliates URLs or links.
Brainstorm Force didn’t explicitly link affiliates through its theme. Instead, the theme infused a company referral ID into affiliate links for third-party plugins when they were valid on the user’s site. In and of itself, this form of infusion is not a bad thing. Plugins themselves permit their affiliate links to be filtered, possibly to encourage theme creators to make a few bucks by promoting and incorporating with them.
Besides the Astra theme, the issue was that the Affiliate Guidelines had been breached. Once the rule was issued, the Themes Community was most likely talking about direct connections within the theme, not a situation where a theme was inserting a referral ID or sorting an existing plugin connection.
As per the Themes Group, at least two of the Astra affiliate IDs were for extensions that the framework suggested but did not fully integrate with or endorse in any way. In at least one instance, the theme updates automatically the database alternative for the Monster Insights plugin to add an affiliate ID — the automatic updating of any database choice without user interaction is probably not permitted.
Irrespective of the individual views on the Theme Team’s total ban on affiliate relations, it is not a clear situation of authorizing or forbidding doing so.
This is also about the need to consider the legal meaning of the report, which is not the team’s responsibility, or if the creator does not comply, it should not be rejected. When you install WordPress, one of the first decisions you have to make is, which theme will I use? There are thousands of themes to choose from, but both free themes and premium themes have disadvantages.
Over the years, Astra is not the first terminator of a general theme. If the theme’s marketing strategy depends on WordPress.org traffic, then such a high-profile suspension will result in millions of dollars in lost sales. In 2017, the five-month suspension of the Zerif Lite theme reduced designer sales by 63%. The number of subscribers to Zerif Lite is approximately one-third of Astra’s current total.
Although it will take some time to see the effect, delisting may minimize the brainstorming unit’s revenue. The template is a professional version of its style. This is a simplified model of paid subscriptions used by several thematic organizations.
After five weeks, Astra Theme will be accessed again on WordPress.org, and things will return to their original state, which can be installed from here. This shows that Ultimate Power WordPress must annoy users, theme and plugin developers, and make customers feel anxious. Don’t worry, and our recommendation is to install Astra in the socket. Our advice to theme and plugin builders-take care of the way you want to deal with it without harming you or your team.
How much does it cost to develop a theme?
As with other web design and development projects, many factors will determine the cost of the Astra WordPress theme. These factors include:
• Estimated project duration
• Subject specification
• Whether to hire individual developers or agents
Compared with purchasing premium themes, developing Astra themes is also more expensive.
Is it worth investing in Astra templates for WordPress?
Although the high cost is the main disadvantage of developing the Astra theme, if you wish to do the following, it becomes a worthwhile investment.
Advanced themes provide partial ownership. In other words, you can Astraize theme to meet the specific needs of your website. However, the theme is still owned by the developer who created it. The Astra template for WordPress gives you full ownership. After the template is completed, the developer transfers the ownership to you. In addition to making modifications, you can now provide themes for free or use them as premium themes for other themes.
Knowing WordPress themes is the secret to learning how to use WordPress themes properly. Each theme sets out the layout of all WordPress themes used to create website pages. There are several choices for the theme. They have a range of styles and designs, but they can also be personalized to match WordPress users’ needs. This can be achieved by installing various plugins or by installing and modifying themes. Basically, the theme can be interpreted as a collection of files placed together. They are building templates for the website as a whole.
Contrary to other sites, the great thing about WordPress is that you can do it yourself. You’ll be able to apply your own style and personality to any website you make. Both the website and the post pages are completely customizable, allowing you great versatility and variety. Usually, WordPress begins the work with default settings, but it’s simple to add, delete, or modify different themes and files so that each page can work according to its own specifications.
Knowing that themes are just the foundation of every WordPress site will give you an idea of how you can create a WordPress site together. Taking the time to learn how to use WordPress themes would help your WordPress site’s threat level and make you more capable of being a business owner!
If you want the theme to have a unique feel and don’t look like the premium and free templates available, then the Astra template is a good choice. The Astra design template gives you more control over the appearance of your WordPress site when it is finished. It also allows you to focus on the specific features you want on the site, but the free or premium themes are not handled well.
You will be looking for image files of the theme you are using. If you install the theme manually, this will be easy to do. If you installed it automatically using WordPress, you need to find the theme and download it to your hard drive.
If you want to start a WordPress website and have financial resources, then developing an Astra template for the website is a good choice. The Astra theme provides better control and gives you overall ownership of the template.
Recommendation to the WordPress development team
Be useful to theme and plugin creators who contribute to making WordPress amazing – you could quickly figure things out instead of just being too dramatic. I think you’d better look at other ‘Large Themes and Plugins’ because your problems with Astra aren’t unique. Oh, and while you’re at it – amend the GPL – it’s crazy that I can install a paid theme and sell back it with no incentive for the developer other than a line. Let’s be real here, the plugins and theme registry allows users to access free stuff to make blogs that earn a profit- At least charge an annual fee to consumers and disperse it as a reward to hundreds of plugins and template creators to make WordPress better. I’d have been more than willing to pay for entry to the WordPress site.
A word with William Patton, from WordPress theme team
Instead of speculation and misinformation, we went ahead and asked William Patton (Team Rep) a few questions about the evidence.
Q: When did the WordPress theme review team see this?
On 7 August 2020, the theme was suspended, and the author contacted about two hours after they first spotted it.
Q: Have they provided a disclaimer about the free version containing the affiliate links?
There was no advisory about the links and no indication of them converting the link posted by other plugins.
Q: And basically, were they violating the rule by not having a disclaimer?
Yes, it is a possible breach of the law and a lack of disclosure on the losing end of some of the restrictions.
I don’t know exactly what the underlying law specifics are, but it sounds pretty grim. Another person suggested that it could be deemed ‘fraud’ under any legislation, but I don’t know it well enough to tell whether or not it is.
Q: There’s a possibility though, I mean, if a consumer isn’t conscious of the fact that they’re buying a theme suggests that the theme can make a profit, that’s wrong, right?
Yup, it’s certainly a terrible thing to do the real legal part of it even though I’m a little hazy.
Q: Someone may suggest that five weeks is a long time to suspend a template, what do you say?
The decision was one week per affiliate tracking link. I think that such a long time is very extreme, but it is a severe problem that needs a harsh way of keeping it from being a recurrent issue.
Q: It was expected to be six weeks, then, right? By their admission, there were six affiliate ties.
We saw five when we first looked at it, but we may have miscalculated. The decision to go for the five weeks seemed to suit the situation.
Q: Were there any other courses of action that were discussed?
We first debated contacting them, but it was determined not to be beneficial based on interaction with the top 10 list contributors. When they have large user bases, theme creators struggle hard not to make any changes arguing that changing something with such a large number of users could adversely impact their business. We have started conversations with other teams about finding better ways to deal with disciplinary behavior because, at the moment, we only have the option of suspending or asking always. Asking nicely doesn’t work as often as it should
Q: Have you ever seen anything like that before?
Mostly, there was a similar scenario about two years ago (different theme author). That situation meant that we included a guideline explicitly excluding affiliate links in the templates. After adding the instruction, Astra said the very first affiliate code snippet – the code was introduced 18 months ago. They’ve added more over time, too.
Anything you feel about the situation, if you’re a theme/plugin creator, losing your WordPress.org existence is going to hit harder. Despite the premium model contributing to a significant percentage of Astra premium themes buying, there is no question that this will affect their result. That said; let’s not kick the bush around here. What individuals did was wrong, very incorrect. If you’re a fan of the Astra theme, a blogger lauding it’s a wonder to others, you’ve suggested anything that takes advantage of the users.
You can’t tell me in all good conscience that BSF has not discussed ways to maximize revenue. They must have talked freely about incorporating such affiliate links to make more money, in case anyone doesn’t update to Astra Pro. With over 1 million active downloads, organizing affiliate links to the mix and receiving referral fees from customers (unknown to customers) is morally incorrect.
Well, I’d be shocked if it weren’t going to escalate; more, it’s just a waiting game.
I’ve seen a large number of people on Twitter, saying that this might have left users in a state of flux, particularly with WordPress 5.5 tumbling later this month. The simple fundamental truth of the matter is this: Astra has been trapped, whether you concur with it or not, the rules are there for a purpose. The best performers that William lists well have spoiled it for every other theme or plugin builder or organization; it’s their acts that have been acquired out of these directives.