The entire brouhaha about Ashley Madison – the online dating platform for married people – has so far revolved around the people who panicked about their information being released. But Gizmodo writer Annalee Newitz started digging deeper. She looked at the numbers, and what she found is pretty damning.
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Who released the data, and why?
This was, obviously, not an Anonymous move. This was done by a hacking group named the Impact team. Why did they release it? Well, they were very angry with Avid Media Limited, who own Ashley Madison, Cougar Life and Established Men, all dating sites for, shall we say, illicit relationships.
They had good reason to be angry. Ashley Madison charges a deletion fee of $19 to get your data wiped, if you had the lack of judgment to sign up in the first place. They didn’t delete most of this data. They kept them. Your profile might not have been on the site anymore, but they definitely didn’t delete the data, as Impact showed when they hacked the site and found the data.
They didn’t delete most of this data. They kept them.
Impact was also quite angry about how ALM had lied. You see, there are millions of men who signed up to the website trying to find somebody to cheat with. They hopefully messaged many women who also stated they had the same objective. Most of these women, however, were not real.
How is that possible?
Quite easily, as it happens. Women are not charged to be on Ashley Madison. They can create a profile quite easily. The gender ratio was already quite skewed, even if you look at the numbers Ashley Madison claimed. There were 31 million male users and about 5.5 million female ones, according to the data.
This is where Gizmodo dug deeper, and they found something that really shouldn’t surprise you. Among all those women, the number who signed into their accounts and went to their inbox to check their messages: 1492. No, there are no zeroes missing there. That’s it.
Now, Ashley Madison is set up so that when you sign in, you get a prompt with a few autoreply options, using which you can reply without going to your inbox at all. Think of your quick reply SMS templates. It’s a bit like that. The stock replies declare that you only reply to full messages with photos and other such banal things. This means that more women replied to messages than read any of theirs. Even so, only about 9700 even clicked an autoreply option.
So what about chats? If you send a message, you might get pinged back on chat. About 2400 women had ever used their chat feature. Around 11 million men had used it. Over 20.2 million men had checked their messages.
Who made these inactive profiles?
About 10,000 profiles had been created using an ‘ashleymadison.com’ email address.
This paints a very bleak picture of millions of men who signed up to the site and tried to talk to women who simply weren’t there. So did these women just create profiles out of curiosity, or to see if they could find cheating husbands, and then forget about it? Of course, it’s possible. But Gizmodo started digging into the information that’s not visible on profiles, too. Email accounts and IP addresses, to be exact. About 10,000 profiles (of which 9000 were of women) had been created using an ‘ashleymadison.com’ email address. At least 80,805 were created with a home address IP – that is, at Ashley Madison. Of them, over 68,000 were of women. This points to the idea that many of these profiles were made right at Ashley Madison.
So what we have, thanks to Impact Team, is a long list of fake profile from women, and a huge bunch of men whose relationships are probably in a lot of trouble because they unsuccessfully attempted to have an affair.
After all this, has Ashley Madison at least found a dip in business? It’s too early to say, but at least four different lawsuits have been filed against them in the US. This will probably turn into a class action suit and will cost ALM big in legal fees. If they lose, they might have to pay up to half a billion dollars in damages. That should finish them off.