After searching through the Ashley Madison database and private email last week, I reported that there might be roughly 12,000 real women active on Ashley Madison. Now, after looking at the company’s source code, it’s clear that I arrived at that low number based in part on a misunderstanding of the evidence. Equally clear is new evidence 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 playland of available women.
Today Ashley Madison released a statement saying that I couldn’t have figured out how many active women are on the site based on the data dump. The company is right about that. It may still be true that a relatively small number of women are active on Ashley Madison, but the evidence that I thought supported my claims means something else entirely—more on that below.
What I have learned from examining the site’s source code is that Ashley Madison’s army of fembots appears to have been a sophisticated, deliberate, and lucrative fraud. The code tells the story of a company trying to weave the illusion that women on the site are plentiful and eager. Whatever the total number of real, active female Ashley Madison users is, the company was clearly on a desperate quest to design legions of fake women to interact with the men on the site.
What that means is that we have absolutely no data recording human activity at all in the Ashley Madison database dump from Impact Team. All we can see is when fake humans contacted real ones. In other words, the dramatic discrepancy between men and women is entirely because Ashley Madison’s software developers trained their bots to talk almost exclusively to men.
At last, I was able to see how a group of engineers tried to create bots that would make men feel like they were in a world packed with eager, available women.