Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens comments on media reports that Ashley Madison members included 11 million men paired with as few as 2,000 women.
On Tuesday, I wrote about the impact of the Ashley Madison hack from the perspective of a divorce attorney. I suggested the scandal was overblown due to the overwhelming likelihood that the adultery website produced few actual affairs between living, breathing people. Yesterday, I updated the blog to include a statistical analysis of the hacked data produced by Gizmodo’s Annalee Newitz, which indicated that fewer than 12,000 of Ashley Madison’s female members actually used Ashley Madison’s chat and email tools – in stark contrast to the 11 million male members who used the same tools. (Indeed, Newitz compellingly argues that the real number of female users on Ashley Madison was closer to 1,500, suggesting that the vast majority of the website’s female “members” were simple fake.)
Is it really that surprising that a website encouraging adultery was less than honest about the product it promised?
Yesterday, Newitz followed up with another excellent piece, this time reviewing the internal email correspondence of Ashley Madison’s upper management, which suggest the website’s executives were well aware that most of Ashley Madison’s female members are fake. Newitz writes:
There are many reasons to call fraud on Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid Life Media, including the fact that they forced men to pay to delete their profiles—and then kept their personal data anyway. But I would argue that Ashley Madison’s fraud goes beyond the paid delete scam. The real scam is false advertising. In commercials and on the site itself, the company promises men that they will meet real women who want to have affairs.
Men can even pay a premium rate for a “guaranteed affair.” To email women, men have to pay extra, and then they have to pay more still if they want to send a “gift” of a silly gif or picture. Using the site as a man is a little bit like playing Farmville, except instead of blowing your money on fake cow upgrades, you’re blowing it on messages to fake women.
Newitz goes to quote emails exchanged by executives at Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life (which earned $114 million through the site in 2014), in which the website’s management team openly discussed the recruitment and payment of individuals to create fake female profiles for the site:
In the data dump of Ashley Madison’s internal emails, I found ample evidence that the company was actively paying people to create fake profiles. Sometimes they outsourced to companies who build fake profiles, like the ones Caitlin Dewey wrote about this week in the Washington Post. But many appear to have been generated by people working for Ashley Madison. The company even had a shorthand for these fake profiles—“angels.” Perhaps this is a tip of the hat to Victoria’s Secret models, also known as angels.
Newitz’s analysis aligns perfectly with the central premise of my blog on Tuesday; namely, that however we choose to label Ashley Madison’s male users, it is probably inaccurate to call them adulterers – at least insofar as the Ashley Madison website is concerned – when the website produced so few actual affairs between living, breathing people. Of course, Newitz’s revelations only add insult to injury for the millions of men who signed up for the promise of anonymous affairs with like-minded women. We are quickly discovering that the humiliation and embarrassment suffered by the website’s users and their families was largely the product of marketing scheme that delivered most of the risks associated with adultery without the “benefit” of the affair itself.
UPDATE (7/6/2016): Ashley Madison has finally fessed up and admitted to using “fembots” to substitute for real women on its website.
About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.