It has been two days since the WordPress community was divided. Astra WordPress theme that powers over 1 million WordPress blogs in the world, is being shut down (penalized) for 5 weeks for illegally injecting affiliate links in their free themes and plugins — without clearly displaying the disclaimer or terms. According to the WordPress auditing theme, they had been reaching out to Brainstorm Force (the parent company behind Astra WP) numerous times about the issue but received little or no reply/action to rectify the issue.
When the penalty took place, it hit the world by storm — some of us not knowing what happened while others started criticizing the company for the unethical move. Putting affiliate links without publicly declaring can lead to numerous problems with the law in some countries.
We are publishing this WordPress news as a hope to share the real news that happened, and ultimately, giving you some lights to the whole drama.
On the 7th August 2020, there was a huge debate going on in the WordPress space, discussing about Astra and TRT Messenger (Theme Review Team Bot). Soon after, the TRT Messenger published an update on the Astra WP penalization and removal from WordPress repository.
The requirement disallowing affiliate links was put in place a year and a half ago. WordPress had discussions on their official Slack channel as well as on their blog for many weeks.
According to WordPress, Brainstorm Force had advanced warnings.
Official WordPress statement:
Brainstorm Force, the publishers of the Astra theme, responded that they do not add affiliate links to the theme itself.
Thus, because there are no affiliate links in the theme itself, they asserted that the theme is technically complying with the WordPress rules.
Brainstorm Force did concede that the Astra theme used third party plugins to pass a referral code.
This is how they explained it:
Brainstorm Force was clear that they do not add affiliate code. They said that they only added “referral codes” via third party plugins.
In their announcement, WordPress linked to code within the Astra Theme that appears to show links from the popular LinkShare/Rakuten affiliate network.
Take a look at these screenshots:
The theme suspension is live. The theme is no longer available from the WordPress theme repository for download.
That means that over 1 million Astra theme users will not be able to update their theme via WordPress for five weeks.
Astra announced that it has released an update that removes the affiliate referral codes. They say that this new version complies with WordPress rules.
But the update has to be downloaded directly from Astra or from their GitHub repository.
WordPress has officially suspended the popular Astra theme. Brainstorm Force has requested to have the suspension lifted. Given how WordPress already tried to resolve the issue prior to the suspension, it doesn’t appear likely that Astra will be restored until the five week suspension is over.
They did a fair share of mistakes that led to this temporary suspension. Here's what we think.
Here's the thing. Astra WP theme is a free theme (with Astra Pro being a paid version). Being "free" means that money needed from somewhere to keep the production running.
And we know for the fact that there are many people who are willing to go for "free" than paid, even if the paid version is much better.
In this case, we believe there are fine lines in the law and what Astra WP team was not ethical. They should have followed the rules — strictly no affiliate links.
With over 18 months of discussions, we see no reason how they could have this oversight.
If they are selling/promoting the theme on their own sites (out of the WordPress repository), then yes, they have all the rights to do so.
But since they are having the theme within the WordPress repository, they have to follow the rules, one way or another.