WordPress says no to Sponsored Links in Themes but gets caught adding them into their own sites

Wordpress ethics

WordPress ethics

Yep, it’s yet another post on the topic of Sponsored links found within WordPress themes.  Now, before I begin, let me state my opinion on the matter:  Personally, I don’t care.  I can see why some folks consider such links to be “evil” and I can understand why some folks consider them to be a “necessary evil.”  If I really wanted to use a theme that had such links, I’ve got to admit that I would take a look at the site that’s being linked to and make a choice to leave them in or remove them.  That’s up to me.  I still think my idea of doing a tag labeled “Sponsored Links” within the main WordPress theme site would have been a better idea than removing them.  Let the “purchaser” decide with the best information made available in front of them.

But what bothers me about all this though is what occurred recently on the BrowseHappy.com site.  You know the one.  Where a number of Automattic staff, volunteersdevelopers, and others had that discussion and Matt Mullenweg goes out of his way to show how he listens to his endusers try to explain to him how a website that hasn’t been updated in years, contains outdated information, and even he finds to no longer apply really shouldn’t be linked to from the WordPress backend, totally ignores them, and we still have the link on the backend. (Quick aside: Instructions on how to remove said link.  Not sure if they apply on the latest 2.3.2 version of WordPress but you should get the idea.)

So imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I was reading a thread over on the wordpress.org forums on browsehappy.  I decided to take a look at the site as I remembered that site having Adsense affiliate code links on it and I wanted to see if they were still there.

 

Browse Happy link

Browse Happy link

Imagine my complete surprise (I’m going link happy on the post, I know) to discover that there was actually a hidden link to freecookingrecipes.net in the footer of that site.  As well as a hosted image.

Hmm, well that was strange.

I saved some quick screen captures to cover my ass in case anyone doubted me, reported it to that thread on wordpress.org and fired off an email to the WordPress Security email address.  The links disappeared within a few minutes but my comment on the wp.org forums went unanswered and the email to security went unanswered as well.  Again, someone must have heard because those links were gone within 15 minutes.

OK, let’s think about this for a second and cover some history.  The folks at WordPress have done the hidden links previously and appear to not really be willing to talk about it.  Matt says on his blog (I can’t find it right off.  I guess you don’t get that link tonight.) that he made a mistake and/or the linkage was placed without his own personally knowledge. (Again I can’t find it right off so that may not be 100%.  Please forgive me if it’s not.) edit: Here it is.

So anyway, let’s give some thought about this link and what it is doing there.  I’ve been thinking about it for quite sometime and I can think of three methods of how it got there.  Let me list them and explain the reasons why they shouldn’t be the cause. (Please note that I said “shouldn’t” instead of actually proving them not to be the cause.  Keep reading.  You’ll understand shortly.)

  1. The link was placed there by a well meaning Automattic employee, done with the holiday spirit in mind and everything’s fine and
    browse happy code

    browse happy code

    cool.  Gotta admit that this is the one that I want to believe but I can’t see it.  The link was hidden and not visible within the browser. (Note the screencap to the right.) If the link was added with good intentions, it was done in such a strange way.  I would think that you would want folks to be clicking on that link but no one could see it.  Also a quick check of the main WordPress developers at the time showed no one else having such a link.  If an Automattic employee had been exciting with adding in such a link, you would have thought that they would add the same link to their own personal websites.  This was not the case.

  2. The link was placed as part of a hack against the website.  I’m iffy about this one for two reasons, one more important than the other.  The lesser argument, which Options makes here is how was the hacker, if there really was one, able to upload an image to the server.  Granted, if they had access, they could have done it but wouldn’t they have gone after juicer options like the main wordpress.org site? (Which, by the way, did not have the link.) The other argument ag
    ainst this comes from personal experience.  I’ve had sites hacked before and every time it’s ever happened, someone else somewhere else has had the same thing happen to them.  Hackers don’t pick a single site as a target, at least I’ve never seem them do it.  A quick Google search shows no discussion about folks getting hacked with this link.  In fact many pages have posters who seem quite happy to be adding in link to this site.
  3. The link was placed as a sponsored link with the intention of at least one member of Automattic staff.  Gotta admit that I don’t like saying this but this is really the only choice we have left.  There are arguments against this of course.  The main one being of course  how they got caught previously with the hidden links to advert pages on the wordpress.org site a few years back.  Matt made a big deal with pulling themes with sponsored links in them from the WordPress Themes site. They make a big deal in the WordPress.com support forums over affiliate links and usually either get them removed from the blog or ToS the blog.  It’s real hard though trying to find solid arguments against this as being where those links came from.  I really can’t think of any but I’m trying.

That’s all I wanted to say.  I think I’ve provided a case for what I believe really happened.  I’m sure folks will disagree with me but I can’t do much about that.

Two forums threads on the topic as well as that email to security went unanswered. Email to the recipe site went unanswered as well. (I was curious.)

edit: Please excuse any typos.  It’s been a long day and it’s time for me to go home.

Been busy doing work over at daria.be

I’ve gotten a lot done during the last few days over at daria.be, my own WordPress Multiuser installation. Here’s some highlights:

  • Updated the blogging software to a more recent version as well as the support forum software.
  • Worked out the bugs with the stat program and made sure everybody was set up for it.
  • Upgraded a number of the plugins like Akismet. I still have to do the individual forums for each blog though.
  • Fixed the issue with offsitte posting clients like Blogdesk not working.
  • Worked out custom header images for a number of themes like Benevolence and Sapphire. I hope to get to more of them soon.
  • Added some themes like Cutline and Greenery.
  • Added in an option to display a banner to one.org.
  • And worked out a method to host domains for individual blogs.

Its been a busy week. Feel free to check out daria.be today. 🙂

New Theme – Misty Look

Greets:
I decided to upload the theme that I’m currently using on my blog over at daria.be if anyone wanted to use it.
Gotta admit that i have issues with the layout in Netscape 7.2 which I have to use here but it does look pretty sharp when it works.

    Misty Look: A white, two column theme with a cool header image
    Misty Look WordPress Theme

Theme Thursday

Greets:
I have a feeling that I’m going to try and shoot for add in in new themes on Thursday over on daria.be. Maybe that’ll be the plan.

    Hemingway: Deep and dark with it’s own verson of Widgets.
    Hemingway WordPress Theme
    Orange Sky: Um, it’s an orange sky in the header image.
    Orange Sky WordPress Theme
    Ocadia: Kind of weird looking if you ask me
    Ocadia WordPress theme
    Dixie Belle: A bright white two column theme
    Dixie Belle WordPress Theme

This gives us 38 themes installed so far. Any suggestions for theme that you would like to see can be dropped off in the support forums. Also please report any problems that you may find.
Thanks again for visiting,
-drmike

Things to do first with Your New Blog

Greets:
I just posted this article over on the help desk but I thought I would post it here as well. It concerns what to do first with your new blog. I’ll probably add to it later on as I go.
Things to do first with Your New Blog
Hope this helps,
-drmike

Four New Themes Today

OK, got the bugs that I’m aware of all fixed and did the daily backups and all that. Still had time to drop in some more themes for you folks. 🙂

    Sweet Blossoms: A thin 2 column red theme
    Sweet Blossoms WordPress Theme
    Chocolate Candy: A brownish 2 column theme with candy in the background
    Chocolate Candy WordPress Theme
    Black LetterHead: A three column, dark theme
    Black LetterHead WordPress Theme
    Fresh Bananas: A two column theme that has nothing to do with Bananas
    Fresh Bananas WordPress Theme

*chuckle* I wonder sometimes where theme designers get the names of their themes.

Anyways, the images lead to demos of the themes. if you have any suggestions to other themes that you would like to use or if you have any problems, feel free to post in the Support Forums. This makes a total of 33 themes installed now.

Thanks again for visiting,

-drmike

Oops, sorry about that

It’s been brought to my attention that we had a couple of issues with links to the support forums as well as a PHP error on some pages. Both of those issues have now been fixed.

I also noticed that I forgot to mention one of the themes we have installed here:

    Waterlily: A blue two column theme.
    Waterlily WordPress Theme

That gives us a total of 29 different themes you can try. All of the demo blogs now have filler content on them as well so you can see how the different themes look.

Thanks again for visiting,

-drmike

New themes installed

Quick mention that if you see any issues with any of the themes we’ve installed, please mention them over at the support forums and we’ll get right on them.
Today’s three themes come from Topi Peltonen. Check them out today with your own free blog here at daria.be.

    Bordom: A two column perky theme.
    Bordom WordPress theme
    Sweet Pink: Why it’s called Sweet Pink, I have no idea.
    Sweet Pink WordPress theme
    Neat: A bluish, two column theme
    Neat WordPress theme

Again, give a yell in the support forums if you have any issues.
Thanks again for visiting,
-drmike