Hacked extramarital dating site Ashley Madison has hit back at claims that the company filled its website with fake female profiles, saying that almost 3m messages were sent by women in the last week alone.
The company was responding to claims that it had been actively misleading customers over the number of real female users of its dating service, which bears the tagline: “Life is short. Have an affair.”
Following an enormous hacking attack in July, the attackers released the full database of Ashley Madison users on a darknet website in mid-August. Analysis of that database initially suggested that almost all the female profiles on the site were not made by real women, with Annalee Newitz, a reporter for Gizmodo, writing that there were “at most, about 12,000 of these profiles” that seemed to belong to women who were active on the site.
That claim was heavily criticised, both by Ashley Madison and users of the site. If true, it would have suggested that there was one woman for every 2,700 men – a statistic which is at odds with the many men who claim to have met real women on the site without much difficulty.
The company also criticised Gizmodo’s reporting, saying that Newitz “made incorrect assumptions about the meaning of fields contained in the leaked data”.
It said: “[Newitz] concluded that the number of active female members on Ashley Madison could be calculated based on those assumptions. That conclusion was wrong.”
Newitz later retracted the initial claim, admitting that the number of real female users was far higher. But she also reported new evidence found from the dump, which suggested “that Ashley Madison created more than 70,000 female bots to send male users millions of fake messages, hoping to create the illusion of a vast play land of available women”.
The bots, Newitz writes, would send users messages designed to entice a response, and then make use of one of the unusual features of Ashley Madison – that men have to pay to read messages, and pay to send them – to encourage the (overwhelmingly male) recipients to buy credits from the site to engage in further conversation.
She writes: “Ashley Madison aspired to be a global network of people breaking the bonds of monogamy in the name of YOLO. Instead, it was mostly a collection straight men talking to extremely busy bots who bombarded them with messages asking for money.”
Ashley Madison has not responded to the latest allegations. In an earlier statement, it said: “The company continues its day-to-day operations even as it deals with the theft of its private data by criminal hackers. Despite having our business and customers attacked, we are growing. This past week alone, hundreds of thousands of new users signed up for the Ashley Madison platform – including 87,596 women.”
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd September 2015 16.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010