Turns out that Ashley Madison users weren’t the only ones cheating: The dating website was tricking its male users into believing that robots were seductive females.
The tagline “Life is short. Have an affair” enticed millions of male users, but females were scarce on the platform. So, it resorted to creating them. Fembots—computer-generated fake female profiles—would chat up nonpaying male users. Then, to view and respond to messages from these seemingly eager women, men would have to pay.
Executives for Avid Life Media, the parent company of the extramarital affairs, admitted to being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over the use of fembots in an interview with Reuters.
After a massive data breach in August 2015, which exposed the personal information of 37 million users, it was revealed that men were disproportionately more active on the site than women. The site’s male-female ratio was five-to-one.
In addition, more than 70,000 of the site’s female users were allegedly fembots, Annalee Newitz of Gizmodo reported. While over 20 million male customers had checked their inboxes at least once, only 1,492 women had, Newitz found. The site had apparently created its first fembot—Sensuous Kitten—as early as 2002.
Former chief executive Noel Biderman stepped down after the leak. Since then, the new executives have been trying to revive the brand. Avid chief executive Rob Segal and president James Millership apologized for the security vulnerabilities that divulged the personal information. They have plans to spend millions to improve security, and they’re also looking at payment options that offer more privacy.
An Ernst & Young report commissioned by Avid confirmed the use of female chatbots, according to Reuters. The investigation of the fake profiles is “a part of the ongoing process that we’re going through … it’s with the FTC right now,” the executives said. FTC did not respond to requests for comment.
In October 2015, FTC sued another online dating site for over $616,000 over the use of computer-generated profiles to trick people into paid memberships.