Last year Ashley Madison was turned over by fundamentalist Christian hackers who dumped the outfit’s source code, member databases, and CEO Noel Biderman’s e-mail. The member database contained the names of 34,000 people trying to have extra-marital affairs, and the revelations induced at least one man to commit suicide.
But according to Ars Technica the company used female chatbots called “hosts” or “engagers” to trick men into paying for Ashley Madison’s services.
The scam was simple: when a man signed up for a free account, he almost immediately got a chat or private message from a “woman” whose profile showed a few sexy pictures. To reply to his new lady friend, the man had to pay for an account. In reality, that lady was a few lines of PHP code.
More than three-quarters of all paying customers had been converted by a fembot. There were more than 70 thousand of these fembot accounts, created in dozens of languages by data entry workers. The workers were told to populate these accounts with fake information and real photos posted by women who had shut down their accounts on Ashley Madison or other properties owned by Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media.
Only five percent of the site’s population were women, which meant that 95 per cent of blokes were fighting against the odds to have an affair.
CEO Noel Biderman stepped down but his replacements CEO Rob Segal and President James Millership have promised not to use bots again.
Segal claimed in an interview with The New York Times that the site now has roughly 16 percent real female members, still extremely low but better than before. Although to be fair he didn’t give the world any proof.
Segal and Millership also said they have tightened up their security by “investing heavily in technology” and by offering members “new, discreet” systems of payment. In addition, Ashley Madison will be “rebranding.”
The site will no longer be for those who want to cheat but yet another “open-minded dating community,” aimed at people who are “single, attached, looking to explore, or just curious”.