Skepticism

There are Virtually NO WOMEN on Ashley Madison

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Sorta transcript:

The hacking of the cheaters’ website Ashley Madison has been getting a ton of press for various reasons, some of which I care about and most of which I don’t. For instance, most outlets seem concerned with whose name is in the released data. As I mentioned in my previous video, Josh Duggar was one of those names, which is funny because he’s a giant hypocrite. But really, I don’t care. I really, truly don’t care what names are in that database, because it’s none of my business if someone wants to be a giant shit head who cheats on their spouse. And I think that if you search the database to see if your spouse is in there, you should probably go to counseling whether they are or not, because you guys have some serious relationship issues.

What I do find interesting about the leak is the privacy angle: for starters, it’s a huge, disgusting violation of privacy that some assholes got that data and released it. And secondarily, Ashley Madison as a company, it turns out, was charging people to delete their accounts and then still holding on to all their data, which is even more disgusting.

But here’s why I’m finally making a video about this whole scandal: Annalee Newitz over at Gizmodo has just published a fantastic piece of investigative journalism that shows that there were pretty much no women on that site at all. I’m not exaggerating. On its face, the site had 31 million men and 5.5 million women, so about 5 to 1, which is bad enough. But Newitz discovered that of those 5.5 million women, only 1,492 ever looked at a message in their inbox, compared to more than 20 million men. That means women accounted for less than .01% of all active users on the site.

Newitz also revealed that a huge percentage of the users’ IP addresses were loopback IPs, meaning they came from within Ashley Madison’s own servers, and many users also used Ashley Madison email addresses. An overwhelming majority of these were female, which is statistically significant considering that an overwhelming majority of all users are male.

In other words, it seems pretty damned convincing that the vast majority of female profiles were fakes, created to lure men into buying accounts, and then buying a deactivation when they realize nobody is responding to their messages.

Thinking about all that, I’ve had to completely reconsider the way I view Ashley Madison. Previously, I thought of it as a gross business where assholes made money by helping people lie to their partners and put them at risk of STDs.

But now I see I was all wrong: if anything, Ashley Madison was probably instrumental in saving many assholes’ marriages. Consider: a man decides he wants to cheat on his wife. He goes on Ashley Madison, a place famous for helping sexy people fuck around with other sexy people. He sees a bunch of hot women near him. He messages them, masturbates furiously at the thought of all the action he’s about to get, and then he waits. And waits. And waits. And eventually he thinks, wow, all these people are meeting each other and hooking up, and not a single woman will even read my messages. Surely I am the worse piece of shit on the planet. Maybe I should try to just work things out with the one person who actually agreed to marry me.

Bam. Marriage saved. Thanks Ashley Madison, for apparently conning a bunch of assholes out of money and maybe into couples counseling.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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8 Comments

  1. August 29, 2015 at 6:13 pm —

    I thought the 12000 number was more accurate though, because that was the number of women who paid to cancel their accounts. Which, still, is only like 0.2% of users, IIRC.

  2. August 29, 2015 at 7:54 pm —

    And what marriages were saved….ugh!

    The ‘legitimate’ introduction sites keep their gender demographics secret. AM has been sued by employees who got carpal tunnel syndrome grinding out fake profiles. Another journalist ran some data (acquired how?) to suggest that men messaging on OKC had just a 4% chance of being answered at all.

    A more blatant sample is Craig’sList. Go to just about any local version and click ‘men seeking women,’ ‘men seeking men,’ ‘women seeking women,’ ‘women seeking men.’ Craig’sList gives the number of results for each search, up to a maximum of 2,500. Guess what? the ‘men seekings,’ both of them, are over the maximum, and the ‘women seekings,’ again both versions, are under 200. Over 150 times as many men as women.

    • August 30, 2015 at 8:47 am —

      Even if we take that OKC data at face value, I wonder how much of that is due to so many messages from men being generic/terrible. My own totally anecdotal experience: I (a straight dude) met my wife on there, and shortly before we mutually decided to shut down our accounts, she showed me her OKC messages. A huge percentage didn’t show any indication of their having read her profile at all and/or were way too creepy to merit a response. I only sent individualized messages after reading their profile and determined that we might actually be able to have a good conversation, and it seemed to work well.

      Granted, that was quite a while ago. I have no idea what may have changed on there since 2010.

    • September 1, 2015 at 8:55 am —

      You should see the distribution of messages to women on OKCupid. Sure the awful messages make up less than 96% of messages, but substantially more than half from what I’ve heard.

      Add some routine pickiness and a moderate gender imbalance and a 4% reply rate seems pretty sane.

  3. August 29, 2015 at 7:54 pm —

    I read another claim a week ago – that the only actual women on the site were looking for customers. I’m not fussed about that, I stress – I don’t care, whatever works for them.

    I also don’t (really) care about the “cheating” angle – I figure was just their marketing angle, appealing to lonely middle-age guys who don’t want / figure they aren’t capable of a proper relationship looking for women who are (presumably) not looking for a relationship either. The outbreak of schadenfreude overlooks the likelihood that other dating sites are used for precisely the same purpose, only with more wholesome advertising. If somebody hacked eHarmony or Match.com I suspect the fallout would be just as disastrous … possibly more so, given there are probably real hookups taking place.

    I still want to see the proprietors charged with some sort of nasty crime, though. The whole business was built on dishonesty to their own customers … from approaching users using fake profiles, to asking for money to deliver messages to those same fake profiles, to sending unsolicited emails from those fake profiles to ex-users after they thought they’d deleted their accounts, to not deleting all of their personal data when promising (and taking money) to do so. Oh, and not securing users’ personal information … that’s a biggie. That business was creepy, and not (just) in the ways that people are talking about.

    I wish folks luck with their class action, but I suspect these guys were expecting something like that sooner or later, and by the time it reaches court there won’t be much in the way of assets to seize.

  4. August 31, 2015 at 7:03 pm —

    The story gets funnier and funnier. Yeah, they all got scammed. Welcome to the internet. Over there’s Tumblr, and over there’s 4chan, but I should warn you: They’re both quite mad.

    Josh Duggar on Ashley Madison was…a bit anticlimactic, to tell the truth. We already know he molested his sisters, after all.

  5. September 2, 2015 at 2:31 pm —

    The researcher who came up with this number has now withdrawn it. But the reason is even funnier. The database fields she used to analyze the data didn’t track contact attempts by other users at all. They were used to track access attempts by ROBOTS!

    The second AM dump had the source code for the site and, well it is a complete horrorshow. The site was using bots they called ‘engagers’ to con members into paying $2.50/minute to chat with them. And not very clever ones at that.

    I was pretty sure that this was the case when I looked at the site for a potential client. But there was no way to prove it was a criminal fraud without committing a criminal act or paying a lot of money to interact with the engagers.

    This isn’t just unethical behavior, it is outright criminal. People were paying real money in the belief they were talking to real people. The site intentionally created an environment designed to establish and maintain that deception so that they would continue to pay them money. Deception for material gain is criminal fraud where I come from.

    The hackers probably worked for the company and wanted to make sure that Mr Plod came round to feel their collars. And I think it just might work with the proviso that Mr Plod would be more than happy to feel their collar as well if they get the chance.

    This is the point where the

  6. September 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm —

    I’m confused, why are we so worried about how many women are on Dolly Madison?

    Are we shaming snack cakes now?

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