* Update at the bottom: The Gizmodo writer reconsiders her evidence, in a big way. Basically, she has no idea how many women used the site.
The news today is that Noel Biderman is out as CEO of Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison. But the bigger story is that Ashley Madison isn't actually a website where men pay to have hot affairs with women then have their names and personal info hacked. It's a site where men pay and try to have affairs, then have their info hacked. A real distinction.
Like all commercial sex-matching services from the beginning of time, women could sign up free at Ashley Madison but few non-professional women ever did. Annalee Newitz, a Gizmodo writer, looked at the leaked database and found that almost none of the women in the Ashley Madison database ever used the site. This chart shows how many accounts ever checked their messages even one time:
More findings from her analysis of the "sadscape" of Ashley Madison, which on the surface looked like it contained the accounts of 31 million men and 5.5 million women. "Obviously fake accounts were overwhelmingly female," she writes.
- About 12,000 of the profiles belonged to actual, real women who were active users.
- But only 2,409 female accounts ever participated in a chat.
- Of 80,805 profiles created from computers that appear to be inside Ashley Madison, 82 percent are checked "female."
- Of about 10,000 accounts started from ashleymadison.com email addresses, 90 percent were for women.
She found some amusing truths inside the database. One is that just about everybody used a fake birthdate: two-thirds of the male and female accounts claimed January birthdays. Also:
The most popular female last name in the database was an extremely unusual one, which matched the name of a woman who worked at the company about ten years ago. This unusual name had over 350 entries, as if she or someone else was creating a bunch of test accounts. The most popular male name, on the other hand, was Smith, followed by Jones.
Besides the emerging reality that Ashley Madison was a fake sensation (that countless enthusiasm journalists fell for), the most damning revelation is how many customers paid extra to have their personal info deleted — only to have it turn up in the hacked data. Newitz says there were 173,838 men’s accounts and 12,108 'female" accounts where the data indicated they paid to delete everything.
"Overall, the picture is grim indeed," she writes. "Out of 5.5 million female accounts, roughly zero percent had ever shown any kind of activity at all, after the day they were created."
Sept. 1 update: Newitz has switched tunes after being challenged by Ashley Madison. She doesn't know how many women were active on the site, because the leaked data doesn't provide that detail. The graphic above counts the number of times Ashley Madison bots sent messages to men, versus to women. "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."
What I have learned from examining the site’s the 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 were 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.
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.