Lately, I’ve been getting a fair amount of email from people who’ve been browsing the stolen Ashley Madison subscriber list, telling me what famous or semi-famous person had an account there. I haven’t been impressed. A lot of it seems to be men who were looking for dates, and the thing is…I really doubt that any of them found anything approximating love or sex there. It’s peculiar to accuse people of cheating on their spouses through Ashley Madison, when it’s highly unlikely that any man was making contact with any women there.
What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.
Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile. Actually, scratch that. As I’ll explain below, there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison.
31 million men begging 12,000 women for dates. That’s just pathetic. And it gets worse.
The first field, called mail_last_time, contained a timestamp indicating the last time a member checked the messages in their Ashley Madison inbox. If a person never checked their inbox, the field was blank. But even if they’d checked their messages only once, the field contained a date and time. About two-thirds of the men, or 20.2 million of them, had checked the messages in their accounts at least once. But only 1492 women had ever checked their messages. It was a serious anomaly.
The pattern was reflected in another data field, too. This one, called chat_last_time contained the timestamp for the last time a member had struck up a conversation using the Ashley Madison chat system. Roughly 11 million men had engaged in chat, but only 2400 women had.
The hackers of the Impact Team who broke into the database were right about one thing, for sure: Ashley Madison was a colossal scam that took advantage of men. But then releasing all that membership data was simply another strike against the victims of the scam. Some of them may have been salacious hypocrites (see Josh Duggar), but that’s not a crime…and many of those victims might have just been lonely single people, fumbling futilely on the internet.