“Life is short, have an affair” was the slogan of infidelity website Ashley Madison, which was famously hacked in 2015.
What they didn’t say was that you might be having a strictly online affair with a fake female profile, designed to trick you into entering your credit card details, under the misapprehension that you were chatting with a real woman rather than an algorithm.
Now Reuters reports that Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid is being investigated by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after class action law suits were filed in the United States and Canada on behalf of customers whose details were exposed following the hack, and amid allegations that fake female profiles were used by the site to manipulate users:
An Ernst & Young report commissioned by Avid and shared with Reuters confirmed that Avid used computer programs, dubbed fembots, that impersonated real women, striking up conversations with paying male customers.
Avid shut down the fake profiles in the United States, Canada and Australia in 2014, and by late 2015 in the rest of the world, but some U.S. users had message exchanges with foreign fembots until late in 2015, according to the report.
Ashley Madison had been planning to IPO before it was royally hacked. You have to imagine that it would have found itself in even hotter water if it had successfully floated on the stock market only to have it later revealed that it had been less than transparent with investors about its true (human) membership numbers.
The controversial dating site is under new management following the departure of CEO Noel Biderman (who has since been busy trying to clean the internet of references to his past with Ashley Madison), and the site has a brand new look which de-emphasises having an affair and claims it “is about so much more than infidelity.”
New bosses Rob Segal and James Millership tell Reuters that the firm is spending millions on security and privacy improvements.
But that, of course, is going to be little comfort for those have already been burnt by Ashley Madison – having had their personal information exposed, and in some cases found themselves on the receiving end of blackmail letters or even driven to suicide.
The greatest irony of all is that some men have had their lives ruined and privacy invaded, when their chances of having an affair were close to zero, because they were speaking to a computer program rather than a flirting female.
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