Avid Life Media, the parent company behind hacked dating site Ashley Madison, says this morning that media reports claiming the site had very few active female users were inaccurate. That’s hard to believe, given that the leaked emails resulting from the massive data breach also revealed the company paid people to create fake profiles (dubbed “angels”) on an ongoing basis, and had even wanted to find a way to automate this activity.
According to database research from Gizmodo in August, of Ashley Madison’s roughly 37 million users, only 5.5 million were marked “female.” But of that subsection, only a small percentage appeared to be active on the site – checking their messages, or using the site’s chat system, for example. Gizmodo also uncovered other odd findings, like the fact that many women’s IP address belonged to the same company that hosted Ashley Madison backups, which could indicate their accounts were created at Ashley Madison itself.
And over 68,000 profiles had the IP address of 127.0.0.1 – a non-routable address that refers to the local computer. And hundreds of female profiles shared the same, unusual last name – which also happened to belong to a former Ashley Madison employee.
Gizmodo concluded that only around 12,000 of the “female” accounts on the dating site actually belonged to real women. Their reporting basically called out Ashley Madison as being a deliberate fraud.
ALM’s statement, released this morning, doesn’t name Gizmodo, but speaks directly to its findings. The company says that the reporter “made incorrect assumptions about the meaning of fields contained in the leaked data.”
“This reporter concluded that the number of active female members on Ashley Madison could be calculated based on those assumptions. That conclusion was wrong,” the company claims.
In addition, ALM states that Ashley Madison’s user base is growing, following the hack. Hundreds of thousands of new users signed up in the past week, including 87,596 women, the company says. Women last week sent over 2.8 million messages, the statement continues, noting also that “recent media reports predicting the imminent demise of Ashley Madison are greatly exaggerated.”
If you tend to believe that any press is good press, then there’s the possibility that Ashley Madison saw a rise in user numbers as people heard time about the dating site, whose tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair,” for the first time. They may have signed up out of curiosity, using fake credentials, perhaps.
The company also noted that its mobile app is the 14th highest grossing app in the social networking category in the U.S. iTunes App Store. (At the time of writing, however, it’s actually #20).
But Ashley Madison has lost the trust of its users and the wider online community, following the large-scale data breach, which exposed the personal details of some 37 million members. It seems that the company may not have been scrubbing the details from those who paid for the “full delete” option, and it certainly was engaged in populating the site with fake accounts, its internal emails revealed. As icing on the cake, ALM’s CEO, who claimed to have never himself cheated, was discovered to have multiple, ongoing affairs in these emails. (He stepped down last week.)
In other words, ALM can make all the statements it wants, but the damage has been done to its reputation. Once the buzz wears off, it’s yet to be determined if Ashley Madison’s business will truly recover.