Reminder about Final Notices

tl;dr? If you get a final notice from the pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party team, please take it seriously. That really is you reaching your final chance with us.

There has been some confusion about what a ‘final notice’ means with regards to plugins or what it means to be banned.

The Plugin Team does not capriciously ban anyone. Actually we hate banning people. It’s a lot of work, it’s frustrating, it comes with anger no matter how we do it, and people always get hurt, especially users. That’s why we’ve established a warning system and do our best to ensure all developers are aware of infractions and allowed to course-correct.

What is a final warning?

A final warning, like it sounds, is an email with a rather stern content telling you that you’re on your very last chance.

The plugin directory emails out final warnings to developers/companies/groups who have either demonstrated a repeatable, constant, habit of violating guidelines, or who have committed an incredibly egregious violation. Those emails contain a reminder (usually in the form of a list of all existing problems) and a notice that if the plugins team has to contact them for any reason other than security related, the developer/company will be banned and all plugins closed.

If you keep making the same mistakes, and you keep violating forum, plugin, theme, WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more., or any other official guideline of WordPress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/, we will cease to host your plugins here anymore. You would have repeatedly proven that you aren’t able (or willing) to follow the guidelines, and we feel it’s unfair to put the burden of monitoring you on the volunteers, as well as subject your users to that kind of behavior.

What happens after a final warning?

In general, people are quite responsive to those emails. They recognize the issue, modify their behavior, and it doesn’t come up ever again.

The warnings are a wake-up call as to the risks involved, as well as our expectations, and while they can scare people, it’s somewhat of a needed scare. By the time someone gets to that point, we have usually sent multiple warnings about various issues (be they fake reviews, asking for admin access, spamming users, or sharing developer accounts) prior to the final-notice, in the hopes that people will change their behavior before we have to get to the final notice.

Sadly, there are always people who don’t take those emails seriously, or think that if enough time has passed, the finality has faded and it’s okay to make the same mistakes and we will forget about it and forgive everything.

Why do people get banned after a final warning?

Given the size and scale of WordPress, it’s impractical to have to keep reminding people over and over that they actually do have to comply with the guidelines they agreed to, and it takes away time from frankly more important matters, like security.

Do people get warned first?

Most of the time, yes. The rare exception is if something is so terrible, we have to pull the plug right away. Usually that means someone snuck back in after being banned, or made a death threat.

But the majority of users get an email with the subject [WordPress.org Plugin Directory] Notice: (your plugin name) and that contains a warning of a specific behavior.

I got a warning about something. Is that a final warning?

Unless the email said “This is your final warning” then no.

We regularly warn people about issues, from trademark abuse to fake reviews. Those are just warnings. As long as they don’t repeat, we don’t have any issues. People make mistakes and it’s okay, as long as you learn from them and stop making them.

I’ve been mod-watched in the forums. Is that a warning?

No, not a plugin one. That just means the forum moderation are concerned about your actions and want to keep tabs on you. That could be anything from asking to admin access to swearing or jumping on other people’s topics all the times.

That said, if the forum team flags you like that, and you keep making the same mistakes, they may come to the plugin team for backup.

What kind of events cause a final warning?

Usually it’s not a single event, but a demonstrable pattern of violations. By that we mean the person(s) involved have broken many guidelines, over and over, for a sustained period of time.

Just for an example, let’s think about asking someone for admin access. That is prohibited in the forum guidelines for safety. Asking once is a mistake, and we know mistakes happens, so the person will get a warning from the forum mods. If they happen to ignore (or miss) the warning and do it again, their account gets put into a ‘moderated’ status, and all posts have to be approved by a moderator. That moderation flag is not a punishment. It’s there to make sure the mistakes stop, and to help protect the developer from harming themselves. After that, though, if it keeps happening, the plugin team is asked to step in and issue a warning.

But even so, our first warning is not a final notice! It’s a first warning.

From them on, if the person keeps violating the guideline, that is when that they will get that dreaded ‘final warning’ from plugins.

Why did I get a final warning without previous notifications?

That means you did something really bad, but not quite ban-worthy yet.

Sometimes it happens when someone gets a warning (like ‘don’t ask for admin access’) and replies “I cannot be held responsible for what my staff does.” That gets a final warning right away and a reminder that you absolutely will be held responsible for the people who represent you and your product. If you cannot trust your people, don’t let them represent you.

Other times, it’s a mistake so large, and so fraught with danger or concern, we feel that the only proper recourse is to jump directly to the final notice. Those are incredibly rare, and I’ll explain a little more about that later in this post.

How do I avoid a final warning?

Besides ‘never violate the guidelines,’ the easiest way would be to acknowledge and rectify any issue that a moderator or plugin rep brings up. If someone tells you not to ask for admin access? Stop asking for admin access. If they tell you not to call users vulgar names? Stop calling people names.

Basically listen to the warnings, take them all seriously, learn from them, and change your behavior as needed.

We know that everyone makes mistakes, and we will forgive a lot. But at the same time, that kind of forgiveness requires you to make changes. If you apologize and just do it again, we’re not going to be able to trust you, and that’s how you end up with a final warning.

I keep getting warnings because of my support staff, what do I do?

If that happens, it means you’ve somehow failed to impart on your support staff the reality that they have to follow the guidelines too. They are your responsibility, and if you cannot ensure they follow the guidelines, we simply won’t allow them to use the forums at all anymore, and you will be told why.

As for how to fix it? You need to address the issue on your end. Why are you staff not aware they have to follow the guidelines? Why are they not listening to the warnings issued? Why are they continuing to have this kind of problem?

Make sure everyone who represents you (in the forums, on social media, wherever) knows that their actions reflect on your whole company, and they have to follow the guidelines too. After all, if your intern violates Twitter’s guidelines using the company account, it’s your company account that gets suspended.

Other people are making the same mistake I am! Why aren’t they getting banned/warned?

They probably are, actually.

We respect everyone’s privacy and we don’t blast anyone on socials, so all conversations are in confidence as much as can be. After all, if you make mistakes and change your ways, you wouldn’t want the whole world knowing how much you messed up, right? It would be terrible embarrassing! Instead, we treat you like an adult, take you to the side, and talk to you privately.

Most people actually listen to the first warnings. If a forum mod tells them to please stop doing a thing, they apologize and stop. The plugins team never gets involved, and honestly that’s the best way.

I made similar mistakes. Why did I never get warned?

Luck? Or maybe we saw you made it once, and never again.

Mistakes happen. Most mistakes, as long as they aren’t repeated, are recoverable. Don’t panic if you made one mistake. As long as you keep learning, adjust as needed, and don’t do it again, you’re going to be fine.

Why did I get a second final notice?

Most of the time, that means we changed the guidelines since the first one, and felt it would be inhumane to not warn you about them. We will do this even if your violations are unrelated to the changes to the guidelines.

The other time would be if we think you really did change enough since the last notice, but you’re running down another wrong path. Basically? We think you are capable of change based on your historical behavior, and we want to give you another chance.

Why did I get banned without a final warning?

Normally we warn but yes, in some specific cases, we won’t. They include, but are not limited to:

  • physical altercatoions at official WordPress events
  • banned users attempting to circumvent their ban
  • intentional security violations (ex. making a backdoor in your plugin on purpose)
  • cyberstalking/harassing anyone from wordpress.org
  • doxxing anyone
  • all plugins/themes are non-credited forks or wholesale copies
  • outright vulgarity/hostility/threats towards any member of the community

In those cases, we will always email and tell you exactly why you were banned.

The people who get those insta-bans are often ones who got a plugin review and replied with vulgarities or suggestions of sexual activities involving a cactus. Not a joke. It was in response to being told to not include their own jQuery, to boot. We do get that people have bad days, and we try to help them get back from it, but that kind of abuse is untenable. If you’re willing to talk to us like that, we shudder to think how you’d behave to users!

What can I do after I got banned after a final warning?

Honestly? Not a whole lot. It’s incredibly hard to make anyone trust you after you reached that point.

If you got the final warning and kept violating guidelines, then you just squandered your last chance. The whole reason you got that warning, and not an instant ban, was that we were trying really hard to get you to correct your behavior. When you don’t listen to those warnings, we believe you are who you act like, and we ban you.

Now of course there are always exceptions. They are incredibly rare, and come with a lot of provisions and caveats. If you really think you should be given a second final-chance, reply to the email and explain why. Just be aware that the odds are against you, since you have already demonstrated you cannot (or will not) follow guidelines.

Why don’t you publicly declare why someone was banned?

Historically because we don’t want to keep hurting them.

Angry people lash out see, and while we’re ‘fine’ with taking it on the chin when people lash at us because we don’t explain the details about a ban (except in very rare cases), if we made things public that mob would go after the banned dev.

See, if everyone knew that a person or even a company was banned after we argued with them every few months for three years about not asking people for admin access on the forums, or not tracking users in their plugins, they would have a very different view of the developers.

If everyone knew a company was banned for telling the plugin team they could perform sexual acts on their parents (wish I was joking), then what? Making that public in a place where they cannot refute means they have no ability to make amends. And yes, sometimes people do come back and apologize sincerely for that behavior.

We don’t disclose because of a kindness, and a desire not to destroy someone’s reputation (or livelihood). Perhaps we’re now at the point where that policy needs to change, in order to minimize the false narratives running around, but I’m really divided about that one, personally.

Someone says they were banned. Should I stop using their plugins?

I can’t answer that for you.

Personally, I would take their explanations with a grain of salt. Everyone (and this includes the Plugin Team) tends to tell a story to paint themselves in a better light. If someone is arguing they did no wrong and were banned, they’re probably leaving some information out. Then again, there are developers who tell people they messed up and got banned and deserved it.

Questions?

I know this is a lot to think about, and some of it sounds incredibly petty.

No one on the plugin team wants to close plugins, especially the well-known ones. It’s harmful to the community as well as the developers. At the same time, there is a practical limit as to how much the volunteers on WordPress.org are willing to put up with someone’s misbehavior. That’s why we have taken to formally warning people that they are on their last chance.

It’s our fervent hope that with the information in the final warning, people will correct their behavior and stop violating guidelines.

#final-notice, #reminder

Top reasons not to use setlocale() for character encoding conversion

Many WordPress plugins use the setlocale() function.

While it’s generally safe to use setlocale() to get various information about a specific locale, it’s essential to understand that using setlocale() to perform string manipulations has significant disadvantages.

The goal of this article is to raise awareness about those disadvantages.

Disadvantages

So, what are they?

  1. Firstly, setlocale() is not thread-safe. If you run WordPress on shared hosting, you may experience sudden changes in locale settings, as though your pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party never called setlocale().
  2. String functions that rely on setlocale() to detect the current locale don’t process some characters correctly, even if the correct locale is set with setlocale().

Take a look at this 3vl4.org example.

The expected output of the script is Ž, but the actual output is Ů.

Recommendations

These are some recommendations on using setlocale() that could make using it safer:

  1. Don’t use setlocale() to process strings in different encodings unless absolutely unavoidable.
  2. Don’t use setlocale() with LC_ALL. Instead, specify the exact categoryCategory The 'category' taxonomy lets you group posts / content together that share a common bond. Categories are pre-defined and broad ranging. of functions you need (e.g., LC_MONETARY, LC_NUMERIC).
  3. If you need to change the current locale, you must change it back to the previous value in order to preserve thread-sanity. At this time, C should be used as the default locale setting.

#best-practices, #security

Proposal for a WordPress plugin checker

For a long time, WordPress has had the theme check plugin, a tool which statically analyzes a given WordPress theme to determine if it follows certain theme development requirements and best practices.

This post proposes defining and implementing a similar tool for WordPress plugins that analyzes a given WordPress pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party and flags any violations of plugin development requirements and best practices with errors or warnings. It should cover various aspects of plugin development, from basic requirements like correct usage of internationalization functions to accessibilityAccessibility Accessibility (commonly shortened to a11y) refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accessibility), performance, and security best practices.

This post is based on an earlier proposal document that has been reviewed and discussed by the performance working group over the last several weeks (see original Slack message sharing the proposal).

Goal and use cases

The goal of the plugin checker would be largely equivalent to that of the existing theme checker, fulfilling similar purposes for plugins. Specifically, the primary goals would be to:

  • Provide plugin developers with feedback on requirements and best practices during development.
  • Provide the wordpress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/ plugin review team with an additional automated tool to identify certain problems or weaknesses in a plugin ahead of a manual review.
  • Provide technical site owners with a tool to assess plugins based on those requirements and best practices.

The plugin checker should be implemented as a plugin itself, allowing it to be used by similar environments to the theme checker. However, the scope of the plugin checker should preferably be slightly expanded so that it can better adapt to different environments to satisfy the following use cases:

  • It should support checking a plugin both from a WP Admin UIUI UI is an acronym for User Interface - the layout of the page the user interacts with. Think ‘how are they doing that’ and less about what they are doing. and from the command line (using WP-CLIWP-CLI WP-CLI is the Command Line Interface for WordPress, used to do administrative and development tasks in a programmatic way. The project page is http://wp-cli.org/ https://make.wordpress.org/cli/), so that it can be conveniently run during local development or for Continuous Integration, e.g. a GitHubGitHub GitHub is a website that offers online implementation of git repositories that can easily be shared, copied and modified by other developers. Public repositories are free to host, private repositories require a paid subscription. GitHub introduced the concept of the ‘pull request’ where code changes done in branches by contributors can be reviewed and discussed before being merged be the repository owner. https://github.com/ action.
  • It should include checks that go beyond static code analysisStatic code analysis "...the analysis of computer software that is performed without actually executing programs, in contrast with dynamic analysis, which is analysis performed on programs while they are executing." - Wikipedia, such as runtime checks in which code from the plugin is actually executed, to allow for additional best practices to be covered.
  • It should allow for customization of which checks are run for a plugin, including allowing optional or experimental best practices checks to be opted in to, or excluding certain checks for more of a baseline audit.

Project breakdown

The idea is that this plugin checker plugin would be developed in a GitHub repository and eventually be published either as a plugin in the wordpress.org plugin repository, as a Composer package on Packagist, or both. An additional means of distribution could be to also publish it as a configurable GitHub action. From there, both developers and site owners would have access to it and could use it as they prefer.

Once the plugin is more established, opportunities for this new tool to be integrated into the wordpress.org plugin submission infrastructure should be explored in order to automate parts of the largely manual plugin review process and potentially catch additional problems. The customization of which checks to run is critical particularly for this purpose, as there is a good chance that the plugin repository would run a different set of checks than the default configuration, emphasizing the more foundational requirements for all plugins.

While the initial purpose of the plugin checker will be for plugin developers and site owners to use the plugin checker, all of the above use cases need to be considered during all stages of development of the tool.

Proposed approach

As outlined above, the plugin checker should be implemented as a plugin itself, primarily so that it is easy to install and usable within WP Admin UI for site owners or developers. In addition, it should provide a WP-CLI command so that plugin checks can also be conducted from the command line.

The tool’s static code analysis checks should rely on an internalized version of PHP_CodeSniffer, providing more flexibility and simplifying maintenance, as this is an established tool. There are already existing WordPress tools for automated plugin analysis, and several of them also use PHP_CodeSniffer, which would mean that the new tool could use some already established checks. In addition, usage of PHP_CodeSniffer would allow even environments that are not WordPress to run at least the static analysis checks.

While many plugin requirements can be checked through static code analysis, this method has its limitations, especially when it comes to certain accessibility and performance best practices. That is where having dynamic runtime checks available in addition to static code analysis will be critical. Dynamic runtime checks are different in that they actually run the plugin and thus can detect additional issues such as uncached or slow database queries. They can also more reliably identify problems around excessive scripts and stylesheets being enqueued.

One of the main complexities around plugins compared to themes is that plugins essentially have an almost unlimited feature set – they can do anything. This makes it impossible to predict their expected behavior. It also complicates defining a reliable set of rules and guidelines to check for. However, there are certain ways to at least to detect what a plugin does, for example when using certain WordPress APIs, such as to register post types or blocks. Such detection mechanisms would benefit from runtime checks as well; for example a plugin may not affect the homepage of the website in any way, but it could cause several issues just in posts of a certain post type. Dynamic checks allow for such problems to be identified.

In addition to static analysis and server-side runtime checks, it could also be beneficial to include client-side checks. Again, there are certain accessibility and performance best practices that could only be reliably detected through such checks. One complexity of client-side checks, though, is that they would only work in a browser environment, so it would be challenging to run them from the command line except in an environment where a headless browser is configured. This makes running such checks infeasible in certain environments. For this reason, the proposed approach for the plugin checker would be to start with a focus on static analysis checks and server-side runtime checks, but build the infrastructure in a way that client-side checks could potentially be added in the future.

For some additional context on the different types of checks, see the earlier proposal document.

Next steps

At this point, the performance team would like to gather feedback on this proposal from the wider community, especially from plugin developers, the plugin review team, and the metaMeta Meta is a term that refers to the inside workings of a group. For us, this is the team that works on internal WordPress sites like WordCamp Central and Make WordPress. team. Please share your thoughts, questions, or concerns in the comments.

Once there is consensus on a path forward, the next step would be to design the infrastructure for the plugin checker plugin and start implementing it in a new WordPress GitHub repository. The performance team would be excited to take the lead on this project, but it is vital that additional contributors from other teams help with its development, especially when it comes to defining and implementing the different checks.

This is certainly an ambitious project, and it is not the first time that a plugin checker has come up. It also needs to be clarified that it will likely take a few months at least to get to a first version. However, we are optimistic that with a solid foundation and collaboration from the start, we can create a tool that will meet the requirements for reliable automated plugin checks.

Props to @shetheliving, @mehulkaklotar, @manuilov, and @ipstenu for review and proofreading.

#performance, #plugin-check, #proposal

Google Drive is Flagging Plugins as ‘Viruses’

tl;dr Google, who already blocked anyone from emailing a zip with certain JS files inside (compressed/combined files), has moved to blocking them as ‘viruses’ entirely.

This week a new hassle popped up with anyone who uses Google Drive.

If you’re not the owner of a file, you may have seen a warning like this:

Warning: Sorry, this file is infected with a virus. Only the owner is allowed to download infected files.

Or maybe this when trying to download:

A virus was detected, so you can't download this file.

In both cases, it’s Google being weird and sadly it’s not something we can fix.

What this means is that you will want to transition away from using Google Drive to distribute your zips, for pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party reviews but also for regular sharing of a zip that has javascriptJavaScript JavaScript or JS is an object-oriented computer programming language commonly used to create interactive effects within web browsers. WordPress makes extensive use of JS for a better user experience. While PHP is executed on the server, JS executes within a user’s browser. https://www.javascript.com/.. They used to only do this for Gmail, so it’s somewhat understandable they’d expand this to Drive. Sadly they’re a little shortsighted on implementation and while they may get around to fixing this, they may decide not to care about it and keep blocking.

There are other services like Dropbox or Wetransfer, but also please remember you can always use code repositories like Gitlab or GithubGitHub GitHub is a website that offers online implementation of git repositories that can easily be shared, copied and modified by other developers. Public repositories are free to host, private repositories require a paid subscription. GitHub introduced the concept of the ‘pull request’ where code changes done in branches by contributors can be reviewed and discussed before being merged be the repository owner. https://github.com/ (both of which will build zips for you, so you shouldn’t upload the zip itself to the repos).

We’re sorry about Google getting weird like this.

ETA: Guess what else uses Google to manage attachments? HelpScoutHelp Scout A 3rd party service we use to process emails for plugin reviews.. I have a ticket in to ask to disable that, because hiiiiii. But right now, we’re having a banner day.

#download, #google-drive, #virus

What’s The Deal with Invalid Reviews?

tl;dr: Don’t make reviews for your own pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party(s) using other people’s accounts. We will remove them and warn you first, and if it keeps happening, your plugin will be closed.

There have been a lot of reviews being removed for being invalid in ways beyond a ‘normal’ sockpuppetSockpuppet A false online identity, typically created by a person or group in order to promote their own opinions or views. Generally used to promote or down-vote plugins en masse..

We know this is messy and scary because any time we say ‘Do bad things, and your plugin(s) will be closed!’ is a terrifying prospect. We really do know that. We really don’t want to do it, which is why we warn people instead of just closing everyone who makes mistakes. Our goal is, and has always been, to make a place where users can download functional, safe, plugins that solve the problems faced by users.

At the same time, we know that developers want people to use their plugins, and one of the ways that happens is by being popular. And yes, one of the ways to become ‘popular’ is to get a lot of good reviews. Which is how we get here. Sometimes people leave reviews for their own plugins. Actually, a lot of the time.

We’re not talking about an individual developer using their developer account to leave a review on their own plugin. While that’s weird and pretty pointless in the long run, it’s not currently prohibited and we leave those alone unless you’ve been flagged for fake reviews in general. Instead we recommend you not review your own plugins since it doesn’t help you out. People generally assume you like your own plugin, so your users won’t learn anything from the review, and since you left it yourself, you won’t learn anything either, making it a net-loss.

The kinds of reviews we’re talking about is when someone (or a group of someones) makes multiple accounts with which to leave reviews about plugins. And this is a global issue. Fake reviews are a huge problem not just on WordPress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/. Amazon in particular is filled with fake reviews, and they’re getting harder and harder to spot. It’s an ongoing battle to spot them before they get ‘too bad.’ We aren’t perfect, and that’s why the first time we see someone leaving fake reviews, we warn them. What happens after that is usually pretty telling.

One big thing to keep in mind, reviews are for two purposes:

  1. Your users can see how other people feel about your plugins (and how you handle bad reviews)
  2. You can see how people really feel about you and your work

Both of those things, when they’re positive, can help your plugin become more popular. And of course, if they’re negative, it can hurt you. Which is why people work so hard to earn and merit positive reviews.

What is a fake/invalid review?

A fake review is a review made by someone who is not your actual user.

Sounds simple, right? If you write a review for someone else about your own product and hide who you are, that’s fake. The most common reason this happens is that an intern or a marketer gets the bright idea to share customer stories on the WordPress.org review system. The problem? They’re posting for the customer, which is making a fake review.

Another common way to make fake reviews is to use sockpuppets.

What’s a sockpuppet?

A sock puppet or sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term references the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock, and was originally referred to a false identity assumed by someone to hide who they are and talk up themselves.

For example, if you make a second account and post a question about your plugin and then reply as your normal account? You’ve made a sockpuppet.

Sockpuppet accounts are very commonly used to leave positive reviews on plugins.

What’s an invalid review?

An invalid review is one that was made under duress or other promotional encouragement, or one that was made on behalf of a real person.

For example, if you offer a discount for your products if a user leaves a review, then you’ve actually just bribed them for a review, which makes it an invalid review. When people are compensated for a review, they generally leave better ones than they might if you just asked. Related to this, if you tell someone you won’t refund their money unless they leave a positive review, you’ve blackmailed them, and that too is invalid.

As another example, if someone leaves a great review for you via email or on your website, and you help them make a user account on WordPress.org (or make it for them) just to leave that review, you have invalidate their review. We have no way to be sure you didn’t alter the review, and your involvement could have altered the review content simply by being there.

Another kind of invalid review would be one made by someone with a personal, or professional, relationship to you. In other words, if you ask your parents or co-workers or people who share a co-working-location to leave a review, you’ve inadvertently asked them to make invalid reviews. This is a little touchy, since sometimes they are your users. The issue here is that people who know you are more include to leave favorable reviews, but also they can tell you to your face (virtual or otherwise) how they feel. You don’t actually need their review, and they can be more honest by talking to you via your existing connections.

A counter to this is sometimes your friends do legitimately use your plugin and see the note “Please review!” in wp-admin and leave you a review. Those are totally fine and rarely raise red flags.

How do you know the review isn’t real?

More or less the same way people know when a term paper is plagiarized.

There are significant tells in most reviews that give away the actual author. We also take into account things like the age of the user (that is, how long ago did they create their account), what their other actions were, where they logged in from, what their digital footprint is, what their email is, etc etc. Then we compare that to all the other reviews made for that plugin and for other plugins and themes around the same time.

Or, as we tell people, we have a complex set of heuristics, as well as researchers who are experts with tracking down users.

Why can’t you provide details?

Two reasons which sum up as privacy and security.

First, the more we let on about exactly how we do this, the more people will learn about how to get around them. It’s like spam. The more spammers know about how they’re caught, the more they work to get around those limits.

Second, and this is more important, some of that information is private. Telling people exactly who did the bad thing, how we know, and sharing IPs and emails, is a privacy violation. It would run afoul of GDPR related laws, which by the way is also the case in some states in the US (like California).

I reported a review/account as fake, why did someone tell me it wasn’t?

Because it wasn’t.

The majority of reviews reported as ‘fake’ come from developers reporting a brand new user whose only post in the forums is a negative review on their product.

This does not mean the account is fake. It doesn’t even mean the review is invalid. It means someone was angry enough to make an account and leave a review. That’s a pretty painful thing to get, I know, but just because someone doesn’t like your work doesn’t mean they or their comment is invalid.

We use our tools to check on the account and will remove anything that we can prove is fake, but a lot of the time it’s really just angry users.

I heard you track VPN usage, is that true?

No, we don’t track VPN usage, but we do take it’s use into consideration.

There’s nothing wrong with using a VPN. I’m writing this post on one. What’s wrong is people using VPNs to get around things like bans or to hide their accounts. That’s why flagging the use of a VPN (and which specific VPN it is) is a part of our process, but it’s not the ultimate be-all and end-all of things.

Keep in mind, there are certain VPNs utilized heavily by malicious actors. Some specifically exist to be used to generate fake reviews. If your company is using a VPN, make sure it’s a legit one (not one of those free, fly by night, ones).

What happens if my plugin is flagged for fake reviews?

First of all, you’ll get a warning. In general this is how everyone finds out about being flagged. We will make a note in your plugin as well as on the accounts used.

In that warning email, you will be told why you got flagged, that we saw the reviews and they’ve been removed, and that all suspect accounts have been suspended. We have read-receipts on our emails, so we know if/when someone read it. That means the situation persists, and no one read the email, we will close your plugins to force you to pay attention. If it keeps happening after that, you will find your plugins and account closed.

The email also explains that all we want is for the fake reviews to stop. Mistakes happen, please don’t do it again.

Why did some of my reviews vanish and I wasn’t warned?

That means either you noticed before you got the email or (more common) we figured out someone else was trying to frame you. We usually don’t tell you so as not to scare you. Removing invalid reviews is a regular occurrence for every single review-platform, and if we told you every time we removed a spam or fake review, you’d get real tired of it real fast.

Some valid reviews were removed, how do I get them back?

In most cases, you won’t.

We know that the reviews appear valid to you, but we can see things you cannot. Just for an example, a real user of yours wouldn’t use a VPN from Russia and a disposable email address to leave that glowing review which is identical to another review also left from Canada and a different VPN at the same time. Also some users think it’s a great idea to make fake accounts to promote you. We have no idea why they think that, but we will remove those and the user will be banned, so all their reviews become invalid.

There’s also a common trend where companies make reviews for people. They get a good testimonial and make a review using that. Sounds smart, but it’s still spamming.

What do I do if I get warned for fake reviews and I know I didn’t do it?

As horrible as this sounds… Are you sure? Double check. Do you work with anyone else? Do you share a co-working place with others? Do you and your company all use the same VPN? Did you ask a bunch of people at an in-person event to leave a review? Did your spouse tell you how cool your plugin was and leave a review? All those things can set up warning flags because they mimic suspicious actions.

If any of those sound familiar, fess up. Just tell us “Hey, I’m sorry, I asked my coworkers/spouse/family to leave reviews. I didn’t realize how that looks.”

If you’re still certain you didn’t do it, just tell us. “I don’t work with anyone else, and I know I didn’t do this.” We’ll check again. It’s possible that someone’s trying to attack you, and while we make every effort to be as certain as we can be that it’s not that, we’re not perfect any more than you.

We are very well aware how painful and scary the email is, and we’ve worked on the language to try and make sure it’s less so.

I got warned for fake reviews and it was my fault. Now what?

Apologize and don’t do it again. Seriously, that’s it. Mistakes happen, and it’s okay if you make one. Just don’t repeat it. We absolutely, totally, forgive honest mistakes.

We do remind you to make sure everyone who works with you on the plugin knows this. You are responsible for the actions your employees/coworkers/etc take on your behalf. If they spam, you are on the hook for their actions. Usually we see repeat infractions come from that.

I got emailed that one of my support reps was banned for fake reviews. Can I help them resolve this?

In most cases, yes. However you will be asked to formally take responsibility for all of that person’s actions on WordPress.org for as long as they represent your company. That means everything they do is your responsibility and if they violate any guidelines, you will be on the hook for that infraction.

In some cases, the person is permanently banned and that generally means it’s related to previous guideline issues. If that is the case, we will explain that, under no circumstances, are you to help this person regain access. We recognize that sometimes employees or staff go rogue, and we are attempting to insulate your from their behavior.

How can I be sure I won’t be accidentally flagged for fake reviews?

Glad you asked! Besides the obvious (don’t hire people to boost your review rating), you should be aware of the following:

  • Don’t ask people you work with (either the same company or share a coworking space) to leave reviews
  • Don’t ask people to leave a review in your physical presence
  • Don’t ask your family/friends to leave reviews
  • Don’t offer people a ‘reward’ for reviews (that’s bribery)
  • Don’t make accounts for people to leave reviews
  • Don’t require a review for anything (i.e. ‘You get a free X if you leave a review!’)
  • Use only reputable VPN services (if it’s free, don’t use them)
  • Make sure every person you work with, who uses the WP.org forums, has their OWN account

How do I get more valid reviews?

You can (and should) ask your users! Put a notice on your plugin settings page. Make a dismissable alert that asks people to review. Post on Twitter or your website. But really? It’s down to asking your users in a kind, and non spammy, way. Those people will leave the reviews you need.

Why I shouldn’t ask people I know to leave reviews?

I understand why people get confused about this one. Asking people for reviews is fine, but then to say asking people you know isn’t? Yeah that sounds weird. But the crux is to think about what a review is for in the first place.

A review is someone’s experience with your plugin. For good or ill, it’s them using the plugin and sharing their story.

If you’re asking people to leave reviews to learn about what they do and don’t like about your plugin, then there’s no point to asking folks you know since you can just … ask them. In turn, they can just tell you to your face how they feel. Also they’re generally more inclined to leave good reviews, though I will admit we’ve seen someone leave a 1-star review for their spouse.

Interestingly, that review was invalid, as the review was a personal attack on the developer.

Questions? Concerns?

Have a shout.

#guidelines, #reminder, #reviews

Rejoice to sanitize_url()

At least once a day, someone has to explain that the only esc_ function you can use to sanitize is esc_url_raw(). This stems from what was (at the time) a logical change. The function sanitize_url() was an alias for esc_url_raw() and it’s redundant to have both.

Except …

Over the years, WordPress has evolved and improved function names to the point that we can nearly say “Use sanitize_ functions to sanitize and esc_ functions to escape” which makes life a lot easier for new users. They don’t have to remember any odd-functions-out except the wp_kses* ones.

For WordPress 5.9, I made a ticket to restore sanitize_url() and I’m delighted to be able to say that it’s back! It’s un-deprecated!

What’s the difference?

Nothing, except the name.

Can I keep using esc_url_raw()?

Yes, for now. Eventually we’d like to wean people off it, but it’s a process. No worries. If you’re using it, we won’t ding you.

Why does this matter?

Because now you (and anyone else) can look at $variable = sanitize_url( $_POST['variable_url'] ); and know “Ah, yes, this is sanitized.”

Are you only posting this because you made the change?

No. I’m posting this because I promised some of the people I made that ticket for that I would 🙂 It’s delayed because I’ve been swamped.

It’s something that changes very little for most people, but will greatly help newer developers and minimize their confusion. And that? That is a fantastic thing!

My code sniffer tells me it’s wrong, what do I do?

Tell the people who run the sniffer, but keep in mind they’re probably adding in a bunch of changes, so it may take a while 🙂 Be cognizant of the work they do and respectful of the time they give you. Helps everyone.

#core, #security

Featured/Beta Plugins Now Limit Changes

If your pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party is a FEATURED or BETABeta A pre-release of software that is given out to a large group of users to trial under real conditions. Beta versions have gone through alpha testing in-house and are generally fairly close in look, feel and function to the final product; however, design changes often occur as part of the process. plugin, which means officially recognized as such by the WordPress project, you will no longer be able to add or remove committers, nor will you be able to change ownership.

This change was made due to the high profile nature of those plugins, and the potential for abuse if a plugin is given to someone who turns out to be malicious. We hope that it will prevent issues like a featured plugin being turned into a premium-upsell plugin.

This does not relate to the size of a plugin. If a 2-user plugin is made a Featured Plugin, then it will be have this limitation. That said, it also will not cause any change to proposed feature plugins or self-declared beta.

If you are an owner/committer to one of those plugins, you can add support reps as needed, but you will need to email the plugins team (`plugins@wordpress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/`) to have new committers added/removed, and to change ownership if needed.

#features #security

Inaccurate Stats Have Been Corrected

It gives me no joy whatsoever to have to post this.

A little over 100 plugins recently were impacted by a stats gathering change. This means those plugins had their active install stats seemingly adjusted downward.

We understand this was painful for a number of developers and we held off on announcing this as we were still doing a bit of triage and making sure it was blocked. We are sorry about that confusion.

What happened?

Recently, it was pointed out that the active install counts of several plugins appeared to be inflated artificially. When we looked at the raw data, we found that this was correct for roughly 100+ plugins; fake update data was being sent to us.

This is not unusual, it’s happened before, although people are usually much more blatant about it, which is why it took a long time to notice it. In any case, we adjusted our stats mechanisms to ignore these, and so those 100+ plugins will have seen a drop of around ~8000 installs.

As the data was being faked before, this new count is more accurate. But it doesn’t change the old counts, and we can’t redo those counts as we don’t store that raw data for more than 2 days. 

@Otto42

Will this happen again?

Probably. This specific attack won’t, as the folks with server power on WordPress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/ are outstanding. However about once every other year someone tries to do stuff like this. We usually catch on to them a little faster and blockBlock Block is the abstract term used to describe units of markup that, composed together, form the content or layout of a webpage using the WordPress editor. The idea combines concepts of what in the past may have achieved with shortcodes, custom HTML, and embed discovery into a single consistent API and user experience. them. Now that we know about this one, we’ll add it to the list of things to monitor and block. But yes, people love munging with stats, they’ll certainly try it again.

Why didn’t you post right away?

We were asked not to while people were still working on stopping it, and then we didn’t want to while we were investigating the root cause. Basically we didn’t want to announce it until we had all the facts.

Can you tell us exactly what happened?

No, we cannot. We’ve learned that telling people exactly how we caught what they did, or even just what they did in details, leads to them doing it again in a slightly more clever way. Right now, they have no idea how we solved it, and that’s just fine.

How many users did I lose?

The Active Install count for affected plugins would be decreased by somewhere between 1 and 8 thousand. Depends on the pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party. And yes, we know that’s a galling number.

Were any of them valid users?

We can give you 100% assurance that no, they were not. The counts were inflated, so the number it shows now is much closer to the true active install count.

My plugin was impacted – am I in trouble?

No. If you were the culprit, your plugin would be already closed, your account banned, and you got a stern email from us about why you were banned for doing that, and you’re not welcome here anymore. If all of those aren’t true, we know you didn’t do it, and you have not a single thing to worry about.

Will a big drop in usage hurt my plugin popularity?

Not really, no. Please keep an eye on the big picture for a moment:

  • If you wants stats to be useful then they have to be accurate, right? Well, we fixed that.
  • The majority of end users don’t look at the charts that actually show the massive drop, they just look at the full usage count. And no, they don’t remember what you had yesterday.
  • You can point people here to explain “Someone else was a right prat and messed up stats for a lot of us.”

In the long run, this will even out and no one will notice. If you’re worried about your popularity, make sure you have a good readme that explains why someone wants the plugin and how to use it. That will help you much more than numbers or charts.

Did this impact historical data?

You mean from last month? Yes. Sadly. It’s been going on a while, like for most of the year. We don’t keep old stats like that in a manner that allows us to clean this up, so that’s why it looks like you had a big drop. At best we could force edit everyone impacted and drop them by X amount going back to when we think this started, but that doesn’t really change much, it just moves the weird needle back so it looks like a month or whatever ago, you had a massive drop.

There’s also the fact that the climb was a slow creep. We know the end volume of fake usage only because we saw the drop like you did. We could guess at how much it grew a month that was fake, but you run a higher risk of looking worse, like you were loosing 100s of users a month for a year.

Finally … asking us to manually edit your stats is a pretty terrible precedent. We don’t do that. We should never do that.

Why don’t you keep old data?

Two reasons: Privacy and size. We delete tracking data for your privacy, but also because with millions of sites out there, it’s heckin’ huge! Like “What comes after Petabytes?” huge. (Answer: exabyte, now you know.)

Can you undo this?

According to what I’ve been told, no. By blocking the fake data source, the stats automatically adjusted. The only way anyone would possibly be able to revert it would be to restore the fake data. We feel that is a terrible suggestion, as that would be intentionally lying to your users.

Who did this?

We are not about to disclose that. It’s being handled, and we are not in the business of dog-shaming people, nor encouraging mob-mentality to attack them.

If I didn’t do it, why am I being punished?

You’re not. Your plugin stats changed when we blocked the cause for the inaccurate counts. No one on WordPress.org has manually adjusted numbers. Basically we said “data like this is invalid” and when the counter recounted, which happens every day, those plugins were impacted.

This isn’t fair!

It’s equitable. Everyone who had their stats incorrectly inflated were corrected when we removed the data source.

I have some suggestions and ideas about how to fix this, where can I post those?

I am so glad you asked! The best way is to join us to be part of the ongoing solutions! And the easiest way to do that would be to come on over to help the META team. See, plugin reviews is just plugin reviews. But MetaMeta Meta is a term that refers to the inside workings of a group. For us, this is the team that works on internal WordPress sites like WordCamp Central and Make WordPress.? They do the heavy lifting of making the WordPress.org experience better for everyone. And, perhaps not shockingly at all, it’s mostly PHPPHP PHP (recursive acronym for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) is a widely-used open source general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited for web development and can be embedded into HTML. http://php.net/manual/en/intro-whatis.php. and JS. Yes, that’s right, WordPress.org runs on WordPress!

Meta has a meeting every other week in #meta on Slack. You can keep tabs on all meetings via https://make.wordpress.org/meetings/

Also if you have a fully formed idea, that you think is a good proposal, head over to https://meta.trac.wordpress.org/ and make a ticket. If you have detailed screenshots and example code, all the better.

#statistics

Change to How Long Active Reviews Remain Open

tl;dr Starting in October, you will have THREE (3) months to complete your review before we reject it.

This will not affect most of you who actively read this site.

For a very long time, we’ve allowed plugins 6 months to finish a pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party review. That’s more than enough time for any reasonably attentive developer to make changes (especially considering the majority are ‘please sanitize/escape’).

In January 2021, we had 596 ‘pending’ reviews, which meant there just under 600 plugins that had been reviewed and we were waiting on a reply/completion. We’re seeing over 800 in September.

That rise is out of step with the number of plugin submissions. In fact, if you look at our posts to Make/Updates, you can see we’re pretty stable around 140 plugins submitted a week, but the “pending; replied to” value is inching up.

Since the majority of those plugins that don’t reply or finish in 3 months aren’t going to any time soon, we’re changing our policy to try and be more sustainable and less work. From now on, you have THREE months to finish a review before we reject it.

What about existing plugins/reviews through September?

There’s no change to existing submissions. Which means the “Reject all reviews pending completion” logic works like this:

  • Sept 30 – 6 months (i.e. from March ’21)
  • Oct 31 – 6 months (i.e. from April ’21)
  • Nov 30 – 6 months (i.e. from May ’21)
  • Dec 31 – 6 months (i.e. from Jun ’21)
  • Jan 31 – 6 months (i.e. from Jul ’21) and 3 months (i.e. Oct ’21)
  • Feb 28 – 6 months (i.e. from Aug ’21) and 3 months (i.e. Nov ’21)
  • March 31 – 6 months (i.e. from Sept ’21) and 3 months (i.e. Dec ’21)
  • April 30 – 3 months and older (i.e. Jan ’22 and before)

Yes, it’s a little messier for us, but it’s the most fair we can be to existing reviewers. It would not be kind to pull the rug out from under them.

What happens if I take more than 3 months?

Just keep replying to the review! We’ll work through it with you and tell you to resubmit when the review is good. That also lets us fast track you since you’ve worked so hard!

Can’t I just resubmit right away?

You could, but we’d pend your review and ask you why you never finished the previous one, which means your whole review will take longer, and we’ll make a note on your account about not following directions.

What if I can’t reply because I deleted/lost the review?

We get it. Mistakes happen. We’ve all deleted the important email! Email us at plugins@wordpress.org from the account/address that submitted the plugin and we will re-send it for you.

Why did I get rejected if I never got a review?

There are two cases where this could happen:

  1. Your plugin was rejected right away. In those cases we email you with an explanation as to why, so please wait an hour. You should get a followup.
  2. Your email ate the review email. A number of services (including Gmail) can be configured in a way that might cause you to have a review misplaced through no one’s fault.

In both cases, reply to the rejection email and ask.

Is this automated?

Not yet, no, but I’d like it to be eventually.

UYes, this means every month end, someone goes through and selects all submissions from a time period and changes the status en bulk.

Why did you rejected my plugin after you emailed and said it was approved?

Human error. Or internet greebles. Probably the first. We do our best, but sometimes a mouse didn’t click when we thought it did, or a human got distracted, and mistakes happen. Those are generally our mistakes, and we are sorry when that happens.

Please email us back and tell us. We’ll get you fast tracked and sorted.

I have another question not answered!

Have a shout in the comments.

#reviews, #timeline

Trunk vs Tags? Which is Better? (Answer: Tags)

tl;dr – We strongly recommend you use tagged folders for your releases of your plugins. Future you will thank you.

While we have always advocated for people to use a tag folder with their plugins instead of trunk, it persists that a number of developers like using the “Stable TagTag Tag is one of the pre-defined taxonomies in WordPress. Users can add tags to their WordPress posts along with categories. However, while a category may cover a broad range of topics, tags are smaller in scope and focused to specific topics. Think of them as keywords used for topics discussed in a particular post.” of trunk. There are logical reasons for this. Having your stable tag be trunk feels like it’s one less thing to keep in mind when you update your pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party for a new release.

The problem with that setup is that you suddenly made it harder for everyone else to keep tabs on your plugin, to make sure they downloaded the correct version, and worst of all … you made it nearly impossible to roll back to a previous release. And with the advent of automated plugin updates, that last one is going to be damaging to you in the long run.

In fact, here’s what you’re making worse:

  • No easy way to download older versions to debug compatibility issues
  • Translators cannot work in ‘advance’ of a release, meaning as soon as you push your code, the translations are out of date until volunteers can work on it
  • You increase your risk of an accidental release
  • No way to allow people to download the ‘pre-release’ version from official WordPress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/ sources
  • No ability to ‘roll back’ versions

So what’s the right way?

  1. Make sure your readme.txt has the stable tag to your stable version in the main plugin file (those need to match)
  2. Put everything into your trunk folder on your local checkout (use svn add and so on as needed)
  3. Run svn cp trunk tags/1.2.3 — this will copy from trunk to the tag folder
  4. Run svn ci -m "Releasing new version" — this will push both trunk and tag

That’s it. You’re done. Now you can upload and edit trunk all you want, for a dev version, and as long as the readme points to the proper stable tag, your users won’t get any updates.

Okay, but what if you want to have a trunk version for testing? Do not edit the stable tag in the trunk readme! It’s that value that tells WordPress which version is ‘stable’ and if you’re working on 1.2.3, keep stable as 1.2.2 in trunk and no one will get the new code until you’re ready.

#release, #svn, #tags