The leak of the Ashley Madison database seems like the gift that keeps on giving. Last week it was discovered that the website had far fewer female users than claimed, perhaps as little as 12,000, but now Gizmodo claims their previous report was wrong and that the situation is a lot weirder than previously thought.
The claim of the number of "real" female users on the website was based on the huge disparity between the numbers of men and women with messaging activity. However, further investigation reveals this is wrong, the database dump doesn't seem to include stats that track real human activity. Instead, the tables called "bc_email_last_time", "bc_chat_last_time", and "email_reply_last_time" appear to be tracking when fake users contacted real ones!
Yes, you read that read. It appears the developers behind the site created legions of bots to interact with the men on the website. In total, Gizmodo believes there were around 70,529 chat bots on the website, of which 70,529 were female and only 43 were male.
But in the database dump from Impact Team, all we can see is the ample evidence that male users were contacted by bots pretty much constantly. Those data fields tell us that 20 million men out of 31 million received bot mail, and about 11 million of them were chatted up by an automated “engager.” And in the code, I discovered that for many members, these robo-encounters could come roughly every few minutes. At last, I was able to see how a group of engineers tried to create bots that would make men feel like they were in a world packed with eager, available women.
The goal of these bots was to convert men into paid users, and Gizmodo writes the chat behavior appears to be rather crude. You can read the full details at Gizmodo, they found quite a bit of interesting nuggets in the source code. It appears the bots were so annoying that developers had to write special exceptions to exclude their own bots from being flagged by the spam algorithm.