Ashley Madison Dump Reveals Smoke and Mirrors

by Daniel Convissor at 2015-12-10 11:30:00

A recent On the Media segment was a good reminder to think skeptically about what you're presented1 in the news and when interacting with websites.

The story covered a techincal analysis of the Ashley Madison disclosures. Annalee Newitz, then Editor in Chief of Gizmodo, (plus her colleagues and collaborators) examined Ashley Madison's documents, database, and source code.

Turns out that only 5% of the users are women. To fill the void (well, their coffers, really), the folks at Avid Life Media used fake female accounts, made chat bots and paid for "affiliates" to chat and even go out with the men. "As documents from company e-mails now reveal, 80 percent of first purchases on Ashley Madison were a result of a man trying to contact a bot, or reading a message from one."

The interview concluded with some solid insights on programming, UX, and human behavior.

Annalee Newitz: I was not interested in looking for specific names in the database. I wanted to look at it wholistically, as opposed to leaping to conclusions about larger issues of men and women and how they behave. You can't really reach those conclusions until you understand how the site works.

There's a logic underlying the code that tries to encourage certain certain kinds of behavior. You're being led by code, and you're being boxed in by code. And so, without understanding that you don't know why people are pushing which buttons.

Brooke Gladstone, Host: So it doesn't really reveal anything about how many men have affairs and why.

Annalee Newitz: All it reveals is that if you target straight men who want to have an affair, as a market, you can find them. It was really aimed at male fantasies. So it doesn't even tell us anything about real behavior. It just tells us about a fantasy that we already knew existed, and has existed for as long as we've had marriage.

1. Well, that can be said of pretty much every OTM story. :)

Tags: society

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