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Ashley Madison Source Code Shows Evidence They Created Bots To Message Men 311

An anonymous reader writes: Gizmodo's Annalee Newitz looked through the source code contained in the recent Ashley Madison data dump and found evidence that the company created tens of thousands of bot accounts designed to spur their male users into action by sending them messages. "The code tells the story of a company trying to weave the illusion that women on the site were plentiful and eager." The evidence suggests bots sent over 20 million messages on the website, and chatted with people over 11 million times. The vast majority of fake accounts — 70,529 to 43 — pretended to be female, and the users targeted were almost entirely men. Comments left in the code indicate some of the issues Ashley Madison's engineers had to solve: "randomizing start time so engagers don't all pop up at the same time" and "for every single state that has guest males, we want to have a chat engager." The AI was unsophisticated, though one type of bot would try to convince men to pay and then pass them to a real person.
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Ashley Madison Source Code Shows Evidence They Created Bots To Message Men

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  • How is this legal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoCalChris ( 573049 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:22AM (#50441893) Journal
    How is this legal? Tricking people into paying for accounts by convincing them that someone is trying to message them would be fraud, wouldn't it?
    • by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:41AM (#50441953) Homepage

      No, before you sign up you have to agree to terms of service, and somewhere hidden deep in the fine print is some incredibly vague sentence like "all interactions between users are purely for entertainment purposes only" which, if necessary in a court of law, they can easily construe to mean that the users agreed to be lied to.

      • Actually, sorry that wouldn't be vague enough. It would be probably more something like "all interactions between users and [the website] are for entertainment purposes only."

        • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @03:25AM (#50442041) Journal
          You're right. They warn that some parts of their website are for entertainment only. Here are the terms and conditions [], and the relevant portion reproduced below:

          Other Aspects of the Ashley Madison Service – For Your Entertainment

          Our Site and our Service gives users the opportunity to explore their fantasies and to interact with others in the Site. However, there is no guarantee you will find a date or partner on our Site or using our Service. Our Site and our Service also is geared to provide you with amusement and entertainment. You agree that some of the features of our Site and our Service are intended to provide entertainment.

          Others Using the Site for Entertainment

          You also understand and agree that there are users and members on the Site that use and subscribe to our Service for purely entertainment purposes. Those users and subscribers are not seeking physical meetings with anyone they meet on the Service, but consider their communications with users and members to be for their amusement.

          You acknowledge and agree that any profiles of users and members, as well as, communications from such persons may not be true, accurate or authentic and may be exaggerated or fantasy. You acknowledge and understand that you may be communicating with such persons and that we are not responsible for such communications.

          Of course, in another section the prohibit you from using bots, and in another section, prohibit you from using fake profile pictures. So the only ones who could be doing these things..............

          • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @03:46AM (#50442079) Journal
            It's questionable that these are enforceable, though. EULAs in general are questionable [] in courts, and in this case there is no doubt that their was intentional deception of the customers. No one would be able to guess that they would have bots talking to them from reading the EULA.
          • by Flentil ( 765056 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @05:21AM (#50442277)

            I wouldn't expect that to hold up very well with them repeatedly using words like 'subscribers' and 'persons'. I don't think bots would qualify for either definition.

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <> on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @07:51AM (#50442649) Homepage

              It would never hold up in a UK court, I'm certain of that. T&Cs don't override a reasonable person's expectations of a service.

              For example, years ago I sent a package overseas. I paid Royal Mail for tracking and insurance. The package was lost and they couldn't tell me what happened to it. They argued that the T&Cs, which were far too long to read standing at the counter in the post office and were not explained to be by their staff, stated that the tracking stops at the UK border and as such so does the insurance. The judge dismissed their argument immediately, because the service is advertised as being tracked and insured. They would have had to clearly advertise that massive gaping hole prominently if they wanted to enforce it.

              I really hope someone does take them to court to get their money back.

            • The bots are people. You just have to use your imagination in the realm of fantasy. Being for "entertainment purposes and all that". LOL, talk about these guys being taken for a ride!

            • Don't forget the more vague sentences that seem to cover the bots:

              Our Site and our Service also is geared to provide you with amusement and entertainment. You agree that some of the features of our Site and our Service are intended to provide entertainment.

          • by CanadianRealist ( 1258974 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @07:42AM (#50442597)

            to interact with others in the Site

            users and members on the Site

            Emphasis mine in both cases. The use of the phrase "in the site" caught my attention right away. Is that a reference to their bots, who are literally in the site. "On the site" is what I usually hear, and they clearly know that version since they use it elsewhere.

      • by Sun ( 104778 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @03:16AM (#50442033) Homepage

        At least where I'm at, the law says that a contract unilaterally phrased by one side needs to be interpreted, in a court of law, in the way most detrimental to that side. Under those conditions, the question is not how AM can construe the phrase, but how the plaintiff can construe it.


      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        You cannot agree to someone breaking the law, no matter how many weasel words you use. You just go ahead and try to draw up a contract that allows you to kill people with impunity and see how far you get.
      • by gutnor ( 872759 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @06:39AM (#50442435)
        And considering the number of actual woman on the website, most men only used it for fantasy rather than actually cheating. So entertainment is what they were looking for and what they actually got.
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      It's legal because none of the husbands trying to cheat on their wives will ever publicly complain, ever, not even now that it has been exposed, bwa ha ha ha.

      • maybe so, but I would imagine a lot of single men were on the site as well, looking for easy hookups with those frustrated and lonely housewives.

      • by Dins ( 2538550 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @08:40AM (#50442883)

        It's legal because none of the husbands trying to cheat on their wives will ever publicly complain, ever, not even now that it has been exposed, bwa ha ha ha.

        If they had an affair through AM, got caught and divorced because of that, not only might they complain but they would be much more likely to.

        That said, it comes back round to the fact that there were so few actual women on the site that there likely weren't many actual affairs that were arranged.

      • That's irrelevant. Criminal complaints (you only need one person to file a complaint) are investigated by the police, and prosecuted by the public prosecutor in criminal court. They're entirely different from lawsuits. The prosecutor can even pursue a case even when the victim refuses to cooperate (though they usually don't, because that makes it hard to win the case); that's why that stuff about "pressing charge" on TV shows is a bunch of bullshit. Crime victims have zero legal power over whether someo

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          It's never irrelevant when it is satire, the joke is the nature of the fraud and the nature of the victims ie cheating the cheaters ;D.

    • "How is this legal? Tricking people into paying for accounts by convincing them that someone is trying to message them would be fraud, wouldn't it?"

      Then convincing somebody that they look beautiful and sexy in those skinny jeans would be fraud too.

      Caveat emptor.

    • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @06:10AM (#50442383)

      How is this legal? Tricking people into paying for accounts by convincing them that someone is trying to message them would be fraud, wouldn't it?

      I for one am outraged that people who facilitate adultery are anything but honest and above board!

      • Yeah it's almost like they cheated.

      • Technically what AM was charging for is to remove accounts that people suddenly regretted making. There are a lot of unhappy marriages out there, and who knows the motive of every person that signed up for that site. However I'm pretty sure that people figured out pretty quick that the women weren't real. Then they were left with the realization that they made a stupid decision. So AM would happily remove their account for a fee.

        The thing is it looks like in most cases they actually didn't remove the

    • by delt0r ( 999393 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @07:47AM (#50442631)
      How the fuck can people be so gullible... That really sexy girl that just want to give some internet stranger a good time, is ALWAYS ether a bot, a big fat dude or the feds.
    • Once corporations won the right to have a license which says anything they want, and which they can change any time they want ... legal is whatever the hell they say it is.

      Fraudulent and deceptive practices? Read the license.

      Shady behavior designed to fool you into thinking you're being chatted up so you'll subscribe? Read the license.

      They basically got carte blanche to do anything they want to, any time they want to.

      And, really, from what I'm seeing they were also doing some shady dealings in terms of h

    • You can't sue without risking your wife finding out you joined the site. Of course, now people will be suing after their wife finds out, so the lawsuits might go further and sue not just for lax security, but for being a total con job.
  • SO? (Score:4, Informative)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:25AM (#50441903) Homepage

    What online game community doesn't have NPC's?

    • What online game community doesn't have NPC's?

      The small difference being that the customer knows that they are NPCs.

  • Stop the presses! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bob_super ( 3391281 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:28AM (#50441911)

    Men looking to get laid got lied to and exploited.
    News at 11.

  • Not at all surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:30AM (#50441917) Journal
    'Fraud' in one form or another (in the legal sense or otherwise) is rampant in all online dating. The fact of the matter is, any sort of 'dating' service is always going have an overabundance of male clients.

    I wouldn't at all be surprised if, in the final analysis, they discover that the so-called 'data breach' was perpetrated by the owners of Ashley Madison themselves, and that it was always their plan to blackmail their clientele.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:54AM (#50441983)

      As OK Cupid pointed out, you should never pay for ANY online dating., The economic model is against you.

      Soon after publishing that famous essay the site was bought by a paid for dating site: it remains free, but had to take that essay down (this is a cached version)

      I met my wife on OK Cupid, and her anecdotal experience confirms that paid for sites are the pits. On paid for sites she was always being hassled by obnoxious men, but free sites (POF, OKC) are much quicker to delete bad accounts. Dating sites get most of their money from desperate men paying large amounts every month. It's easy to keep them coming via fake female accounts. Even large "reputable" companies do it, and have been caught out on TV shows. Heck you can check it yourself: sign up for a paid for dating site, put the photos into Google image search, and see how long it takes before you get a fake. But sexual desperation is such that men will still go there,

      • by Pax681 ( 1002592 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @05:35AM (#50442323)

        Heck you can check it yourself: sign up for a paid for dating site, put the photos into Google image search, and see how long it takes before you get a fake. But sexual desperation is such that men will still go there,

        I'll do you even one better.. TINEYE plugin [] ... just right click and search the image on tineye.. saves a lot of hassle for many reasons.. dating only being one of them

      • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @06:57AM (#50442485)

        The site that bought them,, feels horribly scammy as well.

        I've tried four dating websites - two paid, two free.

        Paid :

        * - vast majority of female profiles dead (filter by last login date and the pool dries up immensely), telltale signs that many of the profiles are bots

        I got dates from match, but they weren't really good matches

        * elitesingles - just not enough members to justify using it, it's chosen "exclusivity" image works against it

        Unpaid :

        * plenty of fish - I got dates but it seems the majority of people on here are looking for hookups, not relationships

        * OKCupid - the only one I recommend. I gave them money, voluntarily, because I liked their business model. I hope being owned by hasn't messed with that.

        I also don't know if it's a cultural thing - mostly had what I'd think of as normal average people (the kind of people I met speed dating), OKCupid was either much better at matching me with people of similar temperament (nerdy girls, basically), or just attracts that kind of crowd.

        Met a very lovely woman on OKC and we've been dating for nigh on 18 months now and very much in love. It took a lot of disheartening persistence and slogging though - online dating concentrates the normal feelings of social rejection into a kind of burning vitriol that eats at the soul. But when you have a personality type that's less than 1% of the population it's the smart move - there was just no way I was going to meet enough women to find someone compatible (statistically speaking) in my existing social network.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        It strikes me that dating generally is imbalanced by the very nature of the combination of gender and culture.

        Online dating would seem to be more so because some significant percentage of the women don't find offline dating hard enough to make the effort.

        For those that do try it, the social/gender pattern of male initiation means women's smaller numbers are deluged with interest, reducing their numbers further either via successful matches or via disinterest with the nature of the responses.

        Men paying for o

        • culling accounts after a period of time under the assumption that despite near-even odds and following the rules, those people were unmatchable for some reason or other.

          Boy, that would be rough. "We're deleting your account because by now, statistically speaking, someone should have loved you. But no one does, and no one ever will."

          • by swb ( 14022 )

            I don't doubt that my made up example would be difficult to actually pull off in practice, although who knows. There may be enough women who are turned off by the meat market aspect of other dating sites that a service with a zero tolerance for weird behavior might find it appealing. And both sexes may find the idea that "the system" automatically weeds out inactive or unsuccessful daters appealing, knowing that they will be much less likely to waste time on "losers".

            I think there are some "higher end" in

  • Turing Test (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:33AM (#50441931)

    It would be amusing if the first bot to pass a turing test is from a dating website rather than a university.

    • It tricks you by making you so horny you don't care if it's real or fake anymore.

    • There was a chatbot a while ago that "passed" a turing test by claiming that English wasn't its first language. This situation is kind of similar. Most of the comments were things like "lol hi how r u lol"; in other words, the bots were acting generally unintelligible to lower the expectations of the people who interacted with them.

      Pretending to be a person who can't pass a turing test is cheating on a real turing test.

  • by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:38AM (#50441949) Homepage

    Porn/cam/sexchat sites regularly do this too, and probably pretty much 100% of the rest of the adult on-line hook-up/dating sites as well. Sorry guys, melonsacidhoney69 isn't real. Neither is Pro Wrestling. Sorry.

  • by Sarusa ( 104047 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @02:43AM (#50441957)

    KFI morning host Bill Handel created an Ashley Madison account:

            handle: smallpenis640
            weight: 220
            height: 4'4"
            picture: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

    He had 3 interested 'women' messaging him in under an hour. And of course you have to pay to message back. This is where most of their money comes from.

    Not sure what happened after that, but yeah, AM, all those 'real women' that 'really' use your site.

  • by m.alessandrini ( 1587467 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @03:30AM (#50442049) if the hackers behind this were a group of women.
    • I'd rather think it was done by members of PETAI, to free the enslaved bots.
  • by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @03:30AM (#50442051)

    I have all the qualities such women love:

    I'm slightly out of shape, I've slightly overweight, I'm bald, middle-aged, married and desperate to get laid but cannot afford a prostitute.

    Are you seriously saying that the 22 year old professional playboy model, Courtney from L.A. isn't real??

    ...but she sent me pictures!
  • Horn-E-Tron (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @03:42AM (#50442071) Journal

    In the 90's I built a kind of porn version of Eliza, but I never went through with the plans to put it live, perhaps out of shame.

    I wasn't going to claim they were real women, just put it on the web and sell ad space or clicks. Customers can't sue me if they didn't pay anything

    The women were implied to be "foreign" via hazy decorative images, to explain their limited grasp of English. I planned to study the dialogs with customers and improve it over time, or at least mix things up to seem more organic.

    I had "rule" tables with probabilities, not unlike a Markov chain, and a kind of crude conceptual model of the human body to prevent unrealistic combinations. "Silly boy, my [x] cannot reach my [y]. I'm not that rubber dummy you like so much. I taste better." I also had a phrase tracker to prevent excessive duplication. (Maybe I should've sold it to the Slashdot Dupe Story Inspection Department :-)

    • by asylumx ( 881307 )

      Customers can't sue me if they didn't pay anything

      It might be worth checking that assumption:
      #1 - They aren't called customers if they didn't pay anything. In fact, given the design you're suggesting, they would be the products and your customers are actually the advertisers.
      #2 - Those products sure as hell can sue you for negligence for a multitude of reasons. For example, if they trust you with their data and you lose it to hackers.

  • Female dirty chat bots ? Is this a IBM Watson application

    Kinda reminds me of the insurance fraud, when the crooks setup an insurance company and the sold the policies to a reinsurance company.
    Used a computer to figure how many claims they could file without being out bound on the actuarial tables.

    Looks like this one is legal because of the weasel words in the TOS.

    But who would sign up for services like this in the future ?
    Bender ?
    Shake that shiny metal ass !

  • You you check 99% of all 'dating' sites you'll see code that has bots 'talking' to real accounts.. It's nothing new or suprising, and if it is to you, you are really naive..
  • The bottom part of the article is actually quite positive about Ashley Madison. Quote: "Itâ(TM)s possible, as one person put it to me in email, that Ashley Madison was actually a pretty decent hookup site for gay peopleâ"but that was mostly because the system was designed to ignore them."

    It's the straight dudes that get inundated by spam messages. So if you're he-man don't bother signing up for an Ashley Madison account.

  • by Spugglefink ( 1041680 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @07:24AM (#50442545)

    So, about three years ago I was miserable in my marriage. All my close friends advised me to leave my wife, but none of them could offer me a place to crash until I could get on my own feet. I was in an acute emotional crisis that needed an immediate remedy, and my only choice was to find a way to suck it up and work through the pain and deal with it. No woman has to go through this. If a woman is having an acute emotional crisis due to a bad marriage, the world opens its doors to her. Their friends will take them in, they have shelters, they have all kinds of free community resources. Men have precisely dick for options. If your parents are dead, you're fucked, and oh well. No one cares. Deal with it.

    So while I was sucking it up and trying to pull together enough money to establish a new household from scratch, I decided to try making my interim time less miserable by having an affair. Millions of men do it every year. Why hell, there are even ads everywhere encouraging it! "Life is short! Have an affair!" That was how I came to know Ashley Madison.

    I created a profile there, and it wasn't long before I got a message from a girl. She lived really far away, and nothing in her profile indicated she was in any way looking for me. I tried to open it anyway, and in order to do so, I had to go purchase credits. I intended to make the smallest possible purchase, which was something like $60, but somewhere between clicking on the "economy package" and clicking on the "I approve" button, they got me turned around, and when the invoice appeared, I had just spent something on the order of $370! I never have figured out how they pulled that off, but I'm sure if I could go back and look at the fine print, they had their asses covered.

    The "girl" messaged me again, and that was when I figured out I had spent $370 to talk to a fucking bot. All the "girls" on there were bots, except the one human who did contact me. By that point, I had given up on meeting anyone through the site, but I still had like 900 credits left, so I kept the account open with a blank profile. The real chick who messaged me sent a bunch of free amateur porn to a blank profile with no personal info and no picture. She was looking for ANYBODY in the area desperate enough to have sex with her, and it was immediately obvious why she was so desperate. I have a buddy whose standard in a sex partner is that it has to be a living mammal, so I hooked them up. She got laid, and I, having learned my lesson, deleted my account and dumped the remaining credits in the trash. They were worthless anyway.

  • Am I the only one who read the headline as "Ashley Madison Source Code Shows Evidence They Created Bots To Massage Men"?

    My first thought was, "I'm buying Ashley Madison stock today".

  • Hi I'm chris Harrison and ..................... chat ended.

  • There is no honor among thieves.

    Why is this obsession with AM? Have you looked at the medical reps from pharmaceuticals? All reps assigned to female doctors are young good looking men, and all reps assigned to male doctors are good looking young women. If any extra marital flings happen because of this, it is not likely to be any more than general population in the average. All businesses gauge how far their target (doctors in this case) is likely to go, and find people (reps in this case) willing to let

  • by dafradu ( 868234 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2015 @09:11AM (#50443027)

    The terms and conditions for brazilian users tell exactly this, more specific the section 5 that in english is 195 words long, but in portuguese is 764 words long. And thats not just because of the translation, this part goes into more details on what they do.

    It says:

    "In order to allow guests in our site to experience the kind of communication they expect as members, we may create profiles that may interact with them.

    The purpose of us creating these profiles is to provide entertainment for our guests, to allow guests users to explore our services and to promote greater participation in our services. The messages sent are computer generated. The messages from the profiles we create try to simulate communications so you can also become a member, pushing you into participating in more conversations and to raise interaction between friends.

    You acknowledge and agree that some profiles published in the site, with whom you may communicate as a guest, may be fictitious. The purpose of the creation of these profiles is to provide our invited users with entertainment."

    So, at least to non paying users its clear that a lot of the females users and their messages are computer generated.

    More here in Portuguese: []

  • I want all of my messages to have a happy ending.

  • Of the 70K+ AM Fembots created, Python was not used. In my AI classes, the teachers used Python for examples. Could the use of PHP over Python be an example of using an older object oriented type language over a newer OO language is more useful for enterprise level endeavors?

    And where could one get a copy of AM's software?
  • "The internet is a cesspool of dubious information", or so I heard around 1993 on a Mindvox forum. I think Reive wrote that.

    Nowadays, election campaigns are being driven by AI bots programmed to spread false rumors. It's a little more serious than people paying to "date" virtual software robots, believing they are going to score anonymous affairs.

New crypt. See /usr/news/crypt.