Image Source: Ashley Madison via All the Hits 107.3.
The Ashley Madison adultery site hack was a surreal lesson in cyberethics. The weirdest fact to emerge was that most of the women on the site were not real. To sign up for these online "guaranteed affairs," many male users were deluded enough to romance Matrix-like illusions driven by computer programs. That meant that they were really only engaging with themselves. These men may not have had real affairs. That does not make the situation better, because what they did was worse. They lost their grip on reality in exchange for a fantasy about their erotic selves. They paid to make love to bots constructed to reflect their own fantasies back at them, while they created the potential to ruin their reputations, their morality, their families and their marriages. In this regard, this site is and was an elaborate machine for erotic-ego-auto-response. Ashley Madison is and was a big, horrible mirror which has allowed its deceived male users to use fembots in an act of self-annihilation. The hackers, Impact Team, had this to say:
Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men. We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data. Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world's biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters. Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you'll get over it.
Image Source: Motherboard.
According to this report from Bustle, Impact Team seemed to target Ashley Madison vengefully, as though the hackers had a private reason to attack the company. A BBC report quoted the former Avid Life Media CEO, Noel Biderman, who speculated that at least one of the hackers had had some connection with the company. The hack may have been a vendetta, since the hackers remarked that they would target any company or politician making "100s of millions profiting off pain of others." They told Motherboard that they started the hack a long time ago, and they regarded the site's customers as addicts:
It looks like the hackers were not dealing out abstract hacktivist justice but had personal reasons to bring down this Website. At least the Impact Team could rely on a public backlash against Ashley Madison. Adultery with bots is still shocking, so this example tells us where we are at the moment in terms of cyber-ethics and cyber-consciousness.We were in Avid Life Media a long time to understand and get everything. Finally we watched Ashley Madison signups growing and human trafficking on the sites. Everyone is saying 37 million! Blackmail users! We didn't blackmail users. Avid Life Media blackmailed them. But any hacking team could have. We did it to stop the next 60 million. Avid Life Media is like a drug dealer abusing addicts.
Ashley Madison was planning a new app called, 'What's Your Wife Worth?' Image Source: Boing Boing.
Cryptocurrency 101: a Bitcoin blackmail of Ashley Madison users. Image Source: Ars Technica.
Before the hack, there were signs of Ashley Madison's bots. The site described bots as 'angels' to customers:
In 2013, a former employee sued the company for compensation after suffering repetitive strain injury; she claimed she was given under one month in 2011 to create 1,000 fake profiles of attractive women. The documents from the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario are here. They state: "Her allegation is that her job entailed concocting phony profiles of alluring females and inputting these profiles into the Appellants’ online dating service in order to attract male subscribers." Telegraph:Several aspects of Ashley Madison are described in the Terms and Conditions as "For Your Entertainment." This included Ashley's Angels, a feature that generated fictitious profiles to simulate communication with real members and perform market research. According to the site, Ashley's Angels accounts "are NOT conspicuously identified as such." Ashley's Angels profiles were limited to messaging only guest accounts and users could opt out of the feature via their profile management page. Users were charged the standard rate to read messages from and chat with these fictitious profiles.
Men made up 86.2 per cent of the site's users, and had to be matched with artificial female profiles manipulated by algorithms. In an adultery database with 37 million users, 5.5 million were nominal females, but an initial Gizmodo investigation (later amended) found only about 12,000 profiles of that latter number belonged to real women with active accounts:Ms Silva, who is Brazilian, was recruited by Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid Life Media to help launch a Portuguese language website in her home country. According to court documents in Toronto: “Her allegation is that her job entailed concocting phony profiles of alluring females and inputting these profiles into the appellants' online dating service in order to attract male subscribers.” She claimed she was given three weeks to create 1,000 fake profiles. Her claim stated: "The purpose of these profiles is to entice paying heterosexual male members to join and spend money on the website. "They [the profiles] do not belong to any genuine members of Ashley Madison — or any real human beings at all."
Gizmodo's Newitz:Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of Gizmodo, analyzed the leaked data. She found that only roughly 12,000 of the 5.5 million registered female accounts were used on a regular basis, equal to 3 in every 1000 or less than 1%. The remaining were used only one time, the day they were registered. She also found that a very high number of the women's accounts were created from the same IP address suggesting there were many fake accounts. She found women checked email messages very infrequently: for every 1 time a woman checked her email, 13,585 men checked theirs. Only 9,700 of the 5 million female account had ever replied to a message, compared to the 5.9 million men who would do the same. She concluded that, "The women's accounts show so little activity that they might as well not be there".
Newitz later corrected and reinterpreted those numbers:What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile. ... [T]here’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison.When you look at the evidence, it’s hard to deny that the overwhelming majority of men using Ashley Madison weren’t having affairs. They were paying for a fantasy.
Newitz revealed that the Ashley Madison team referred to fembots as 'hosts' or 'engagers.' She gave a small sample of engineers' comments:in the database dump from Impact Team, all we can see is the ample evidence that male users were contacted by bots pretty much constantly. Those data fields tell us that 20 million men out of 31 million received bot mail, and about 11 million of them were chatted up by [a fembot]. And in the code, I discovered that for many members, these robo-encounters could come roughly every few minutes. 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.
Newitz described the fembots as angel skins, possessed by demon computer programs:host bot mother creates engagersbirth has been given! let the engager find itself a man!randomizing start time so engagers don’t all pop up at the same timefor every single state that has guest males, we want to have a chat engager
Gizmodo highlighted one fembot profile tag:These comments describe a bot being born and immediately turning to its one purpose in life: finding a man. Then the developer notes that it’s important that “engagers don’t pop up at the same time.” The engager bots are basically pieces of software. They operate by inhabiting, as a demon might, previously existing fake profiles that the company calls “Angels”—these are the profiles that Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman was pushing his people to create at scale in internal company emails. The Angels, also called “hosts” by the company’s engineers, lay dormant until a bot animates them and uses them like a skin to contact a male user. Which is why the engineers sought ways to prevent them from all grabbing the same identity at the same time. Basically, they look a lot less fake if there aren’t a zillion bot clones running around chatting men up.
Once engaged in conversation with a targeted user, the bot would say things like:"I’m sexy, discreet, and always up for kinky chat. Would also meet up in person if we get to know each other and think there might be a good connection. Does this sound intriguing?"
We don't yet have tech-implants to detect the absence of a user's internal conscience, so that when a situation like this arises, the Web can generate an annoying pop-up that says: Your eternal soul, if you have one, is in jeopardy. This is not a drill. A 2011 post on this blog asked if sex motivated men to invent the Internet. My theory was that sex may have partly motivated men when they invented the Internet, but they wanted to do this as a democratic equalizer, while partially answering compartmentalized emotional needs. It is even possible that the democratization of online information might depend on a corresponding compartmentalization of human behaviour, which is intriguing."Hmmmm, when I was younger I used to sleep with my friend’s boyfriends. I guess old habits die hard although I could never sleep with their husbands."
A few years ago, virtual girlfriends were creepy but novel. The Ashley Madison hack shows the sad end result, where free information (and corresponding free behaviours) intersect with emotionally compartmentalized responses. The outcome for the Ashley Madison user interacting with a fembot was an unknowing, yet willing, social withdrawal, isolation, denial of reality, and closed engagement with reflections of the user's own troubled mind. A clinical definition of that pattern of behaviour is called 'psychosis.' Or if you prefer to be more mealy mouthed about it, you can read how actual users (or people who claim to have been actual users) described their Ashley Madison experiences. They say that women are sexually repressed and Ashley Madison gave women a chance to express their true desires. Yeah, that must be it.
The woman in the red dress. Matrix (1999) © Warner Bros. Video Source: Youtube. Reproduced under Fair Use.
Cypher's steak scene. Matrix (1999) © Warner Bros. Video Source: Youtube. Reproduced under Fair Use.
- Reddit: All threads on the Ashley Madison hack
- Twitter: Ashley Madison Twitter feed
- Binary Edge (7 September 2015): "Ashley Madison - A Final Analysis of the Data"
- Daily Mail (5 September 2015): "Company behind Ashley Madison 'was running an online escort service'"
- Ars Technica (5 September 2015): "Extorting Money from Ashley Madison Customers is Actually Pretty Easy"
- Global News (3 September 2015): "4,488 had active Ashley Madison accounts despite saying they were under 18"
- BGR (1 September 2015): "Ex-Ashley Madison Spokesmodel Drops Bombshell Allegations against Cheating Website"
- The Register (1 September 2015): "Prepare to be Thunderstruck: What if 'deuszu' isn't the Ashley Madison hacker?"
- BBC (1 September 2015): "Ashley Madison: Did Many Women Use the Infidelity Site?"
- Toronto Star (31 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Claims More than 87,000 New Female Members"
- BBC (31 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Says Site is 'Still Growing'"
- CBC (31 August 2015): "Ashley Madison denies shutdown coming and lack of female users"
- Gizmodo (31 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Code Shows More Women, More Bots"
- Avid Life Media (31 August 2015): "Statement from Avid Life Media, Monday, August 31, 2015"
- Ars Technica (31 August 2015): "What Us Worry? Ashley Madison Says It Added Over 100K Users Last Week"
- Gizmodo (31 August 2015): "One Chart That Shows How Much Madison Made Using Bots"
- Women's Health (31 August 2015): "What Every Woman Whose Husband was on Ashley Madison Needs to Know"
- Metro (30 August 2015): "Ashley Madison leak: Cop who committed suicide wasn't actually a member of the site"
- Independent (27 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hack: Just Three in Every 10,000 Female Accounts on Infidelity Website Are Real"
- Yahoo (27 August 2015): "The Most Hilarious Revelation about the Ashley Madison Hack Yet"
- Ars Technica (27 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Abusing DMCA 'to put genie back in the bottle,' EFF Says"
- Gizmodo (27 August 2015): "The Fembots of Ashley Madison"
- Boing Boing (27 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Planned a "What's Your Wife Worth?" App"
- Daily Dot (26 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Was Working on an App Called What's Your Wife Worth"
- Gizmodo (26 August 2015): "Almost None of the Women in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site"
- CBC (26 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hackers Impact Team Could Face Long List of Charges"
- People Magazine (25 August 2015): "Suicides Possibly Linked to Release of Ashley Madison Client Names: Toronto Police"
- NBC (24 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Offers Reward for Info on Hackers"
- Guardian (24 August 2015): "Toronto Police Report Two Suicides Associated with Ashley Madison Hack"
- Ars Technica (24 August 2015): "Lawyers Smelling Blood in the Wake of the Ashley Madison Hack"
- Ars Technica (22 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hackers Leave Footprints That May Help Investigators"
- Daily Mail (22 August 2015): "Hacked Adultery Website Ashley Madison Created Hundreds of Fake Female Profiles to Lure in Male Customers, Claims Former Employee"
- Boing Boing (21 August 2015): "Impact Team Hackers behind Ashley Madison Breach: More Coming, But We'll Spare You the Dick Pics"
- Gizmodo (21 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hackers Break Their Silence"
- Motherboard (21 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hackers Speak Out: 'Nobody was Watching'"
- Twitter (21 August 2015): Attempts to locate Ashley Madison Hackers
- Trusted Sec (21 August 2015): "Third Ashley Madison Dump Released"
- Telegraph (21 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Employee Told 'To Create Hundreds of Fake Profiles of Alluring Women'"
- CenLA Now (20 August 2015): "Ashley Madison hackers post millions of customer names"
- Daily Mail (20 August 2015): "Hackers Dump Second, Even Bigger Batch of Ashley Madison Records with Taunting Message to Millionaire Founder of 'cheating dirtbag' Site"
- Ars Technica (20 August 2015): "Second Dump from Ashley Madison Hack, Twice the Size, Includes CEO E-mail"
- Salon.com (20 August 2015): "My fake Ashley Madison affair: Someone else used my email address to create an account - so why do I feel so guilty?"
- Hydraze and Friends (20 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Full Dump Has Finally Leaked"
- IB Times (20 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hack: Who are Impact Team, Why did they Leak Website Data and Will They Be Caught?"
- Trusted Sec (20 August 2015): "Second - Larger - Ashley Madison Dump Released"
- BBC (20 August 2015): "Ashley Madison: Who are the Hackers Behind the Attack?"
- CenLA Now (19 August 2015): "Now You Can Search the Ashley Madison Cheaters List"
- CBS Tampa Bay (19 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hackers Say 90-95 Percent of Female Profiles are Fake"
- Ars Technica (19 August 2015): "Ashley Madison Hack is Not Only Real, It's Worse Than We Thought"
- Bustle (19 August 2015): "What is the Impact Team? The Ashley Madison Hackers Delivered on their Promises"
- Ars Technica (18 August 2015): "Data from Hack of Ashley Madison Cheater Site Dumped Online"
- Wired (18 August 2015): "Hackers Finally Post Stolen Ashley Madison Data"
- United Media Publishing (18 August 2015): "Man Outed in Ashley Madison Hack Commits Suicide"
- RapidShare: Ashley Madison torrent
- Pirate Bay (16 August 2015): "The Complete Ashley Madison Dump from the Impact Team"
- Krebs on Security (15 August 2015): "Who Hacked Ashley Madison?"
- Krebs on Security (15 August 2015): "Ashley Madison: $500K Bounty for Hackers"
- Ars Technica (21 July 2015): "Ashley Madison, An Online Dating Website for Cheaters, Gets Hacked"
- SecLists (19 July 2015): "Full Disclosure: Ashley Madison Hacked"
- Krebs on Security (15 July 2015): "Online Cheating Site Ashley Madison Hacked"
- Forbes (21 January 2015): "Even in the Tinder Era, Adultery Site Ashley Madison Keeps Making Money Hand over Fist"
- Canadian Lawyer Magazine (31 October 2013): "Former Ashley Madison Employee Exercising Waiver of Tort"
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