Exclusive for Daily Mail Online on the alleged prolific use of bots on Ashley Madison, Read it here
A data scientist has uncovered what he says is proof that Ashley Madison created tens of thousands of fake accounts to dupe members into paying for its services, in a scheme that would have almost doubled the website’s revenue.
According to statistics seen by Daily Mail Online, 40,000 profiles were set up on the affair site using just six email addresses owned by the website’s operators on two separate days.
It follows claims in previous reports that the extra-marital dating network tried to hide around 100,000 of these so-called ‘engager’ profiles – sometimes referred to as Ashley Angels – from users, so they believed they were talking to real people.
If true, this means the real number of ‘available’ women was drastically reduced, while the website’s monthly revenue was almost doubled by the ‘engagers’, as members have to pay to read their online messages.
Around 700,000 of these women are said to have been looking for lesbian affairs. Therefore, if the 100,000 ‘fembots’ are included, there would have been only 4.7million women looking for extramarital relationships with men.
This means there would have been five men for every one woman.
Despite Ashley Madison’s protestations to the contrary, member generation was going on at a industrial scale and there is a clear trail of evidence leading back to the company
Jeremy Bullock, chief data scientist at a UK-based technology firm
Jeremy Bullock, the chief data scientist at a UK-based technology firm, said he was suspicious of Ashley Madison’s recruitment methods, so searched through the data released by hackers last month looking for anomalies.
He found that on April 10, 2012, 122,766 ‘men’ and 11,923 ‘women’ signed up to the website from an IP address that traced back to Avid Life Media – Ashley Madison’s parent company.
On February 2, 2013, a further 100,092 ‘women’ also signed up.
Looking closely at the data, he found only six email addresses had been used to generate a total of around 40,000 ‘fake’ women. One of these was host@almlabs – another IP address owned by Avid Life Media.
He told Daily Mail Online: ‘Looking at the IP addresses used by these emails, the majority were from localhost.
‘The next largest were from IP address 22.214.171.124 – which has a host name of tor.office.avidlifemedia.com.’
He added: ‘I believe that this data shows that despite Ashley Madison’s protestations to the contrary, member generation was going on at a industrial scale and that there is a clear trail of evidence leading back to the company.’
Although Bullock says he found 40,000 ‘bots’, other media reports suggest the number could be closer to 100,000.
As a result of the supposed scheme, according to Gizmodo, around 80 per cent of new members were sent messages by ‘engagers’ – fake profiles – when they signed up.
According to documents seen by Daily Mail Online they received generic messages such as ‘are you online’ to create the illusion a woman was trying to start a conversation with them.
However in eight out of ten instances, according to Gizmodo, these women were fake.
These bots would allegedly send messages to millions of members, creating an illusion they were contacting them directly with the aim of arranging a sexual relationship.
This means some members supposedly paid up to $290 to interact with someone who didn’t actually exist.
This has prompted two lawsuits in California and Maryland by men who think they were deliberately deceived.
Other members who contacted the website suggesting they had uncovered the ‘bots’ have asked asking for refunds. It is not known how Ashley Madison responded.
Ashley Madison, which has denied creating the bots, has failed to respond to numerous requests from Daily Mail Online for comment.
According to statistics sent to Daily Mail Online by Twitter user @amlolzz, when the ‘engagers’ were allegedly turned on, the website’s revenue spiked. When they were deactivated it dropped again.
Website founder Noel Biderman (pictured) resigned after the details of its 32million members were hacked and released online
A graph discovered in leaked emails between Avid Life Media chief operating officer Rizwan Jiwan and the former chief executive officer Noel Biderman shows revenues went from $60,000 per month to $110,500 when the bots were used for the first time in 2012.
Avid Life Media has denied it was involved in ‘member generation’ – but data retrieved from the hacked database suggests it was going on.
The website was set up in 2001 by Noel Biderman – who stepped down earlier this month after the emails of its 32million ‘users’ were hacked and leaked on to the internet.
The bots’ accounts – some of which used ashleymadison.com email address – were apparently used because, in comparison to men, a very small number of women signed up to the site.
According to company emails and documents seen by Gizmodo, around 80 per cent of new members’ purchases were for messages with bots.
Identities were allegedly created using old or abandoned accounts from members who had signed up before 2011.
One of the accounts, under the name Sensuous Kitten, was listed as the 11th member of Ashley Madison.
Analysis: A graph discovered in leaked emails between Avid Life Media COO Rizwan Jiwan and the former CEO Noel Biderman show how revenue doubled when the fake accounts – or ‘engagers’ – were turned on in Canada months after they were temporarily deactivated
Some members were suspicious and sent the company disgruntled emails saying that they had unearthed its scheme.
In 2012, a complaint from the California Attorney General stated one of the users had discovered the ‘rip-offs’ after he noticed women who had been messaging him were online constantly over Christmas and New Year.
After getting a number of messages, he decided to pay to read them. But when he opened them they all said the same thing: ‘Are you online?’
Christopher Russell of Maryland also filed a lawsuit . According to the Hollywood Reporter, the complaint said: ‘The released information revealed that ‘some significant percentage—the hackers say 90-95 percent—of female profiles on the site are fake, meant to lure paying male clients into believing that the place is teeming with women ready to be whisked away to hotel rooms.’
Gizmodo found four of the account names – Hooky_Pooky, ToasterStrudell, SunStarsMoon and BurnOnTheGrill – were listed as ‘hosts’ on the website’s hacked database of members.
The number of messages the bots sent to men far outweighed the number that were sent to female users.
In response, Avid Life Media said that the fake profiles had essentially been set up by ‘criminal elements’ or scammers and had nothing to do with administrators.
Despite the response, users reportedly continued to complain about the fake profiles.
There were also some complaints over the wording in the website’s terms and conditions.
One of the passages reads: ‘In order to allow persons who are Guests on our Site to experience the type of communications they can expect as Members, we may create profiles that can interact with them.
‘These profiles allow us to collect messages, instant chat and/or replies from individuals or programs for market research and/or customer experience and/or quality control and/or compliance purposes.
‘Further, we may use these profiles in connection with our market research to enable us to analyze user preferences, trends, patterns and information about our customer and potential customer base.
‘You acknowledge and agree that some of the profiles posted on the Site that you may communicate with as a Guest may be fictitious.
‘The purpose of our creating these profiles is to provide our Guest users with entertainment, to allow Guest users to explore our Services and to promote greater participation in our Services.’
Another passage states ‘some’ users are ‘not seeking in person meetings with anyone they meet on the service, but consider their communications with users and members to be for their amusement’.
In 2012 a former Ashley Madison employee filed a lawsuit, claiming she was hired to create 1,000 fake profiles of ‘alluring women’ in three weeks, written in Portuguese, in order to attract a Brazilian audience.
Doriana Silva said the work at the website’s headquarters in Toronto, Canada, led her to getting repetitive strain injury. She settled out of court.