Popular WordPress theme Astra with over one million users has been suspended for five weeks. The punishment is in response to alleged violations of WordPress prohibitions against adding affiliate links into themes.
Update 08/10/2020: Astra Theme Suspension
The Astra WP Theme is back in the WordPress Repository.
It appears as if the suspension may have been lifted. There is no official word yet as to what the status of the Astra WP theme is at this moment.
Astra Theme Removed from WordPress Repository
Following a link for the official Astra theme WordPress page shows that the theme is not available from WordPress.
Using the search function on WordPress to find the Astra theme shows zero results. The Astra theme is completely removed from WordPress.org.
Astra Affiliate Links?
An affiliate link allows a person or organization to profit from recommending a product like Astra.
Astra is a free theme. Yet like many free WordPress plugins and themes they also provide premium versions that contain additional functionalities that are appropriate for professional publishers as opposed to a casual blogger.
Official WordPress Announcement
The official WordPress announcement by TRT Messenger (Theme Review Team Bot) announced the suspension on August 7, 2020.
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:
“18 months ago you started adding affiliate links in your theme.
…We have this requirement against this:
Themes are not allowed to have affiliate URLs or links.
We added this requirement more than 18 months ago, specifically for this kind of issue.
We also asked other theme authors to remove such links from their themes and discussed this topic, on Slack & the blog, for many weeks.
We don’t understand how you can miss something like this, and it’s also not the first time we have to come and tell you something is wrong with your theme.
Because of this, your theme will be suspended for the next 5 weeks (until September 11th, 2020).”
Related: Divi WordPress Theme Vulnerability
Brainstorm Force Astra Theme Response
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:
“We however admit that we used filters available in third party plugins where we only pass our referral code.
But at the same time, we do NOT add any affiliate links or whatsoever as per the requirement.
We’re not sure if using the referral filter is against the requirement. But if it is, we’re happy to remove it immediately and submit the new version.”
Did Astra Theme Inject Affiliate Links?
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.
Screenshot of Affiliate Links
Another Screenshot of Astra Theme Affiliate Links
Astra Theme Suspension is Live
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.
Read the official WordPress Announcement
Examples of Code with Affiliate Links