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Identity

New Ashley Madison CEO Says They'll Focus More on Real Women, Less on Robots

Ashley Madison is back after last year’s devastating data leak. The incoming CEO tells Broadly they’re not as bad as everyone thinks.
July 13, 2016, 12:50pm
Photo courtesy of Ashley Madison

In the decades that have followed the invention of the World Wide Web, we've learned that if the Internet is good for one thing, it's for a public shaming. Almost exactly this time a year ago, the Internet glowed with the metaphorical light of a thousand torches held aloft by a baying, pitchforked mob delighting in Ashley Madison data breach.

In July 2015, a hacker collective calling themselves the Impact Team stole and leaked online the user data of around 37 million Ashley Madison users. The information included email and street addresses, credit card numbers, passwords, and other personal details amounting to around 60 gigabytes of data. A second data dump in August 2015 made public corporate emails including those of former CEO Noel Biderman.

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Unsurprisingly, given that Ashley Madison facilitated extramarital affairs, few initiallyfelt sympathy for the users who had been hacked—especially after it was revealed that the company had created online fembots, disguised as real women, to initiate conversations with male users. But as reports emerged of suicides and gay men in religiously intolerant countries such as Saudi Arabia being at risk, the ethics of the data dump became murkier.

Now Ashley Madison is back, with new management and a solemn trio of adverts in which white office workers look longingly at each other over a dirgeful acoustic soundtrack. In a press release announcing the relaunch, incoming CEO Rob Segal apologized for past mistakes and claimed they were "charting a new course and making some big changes."

Broadly reached out to Segal to ask about these changes. Has Ashley Madison dramatically revamped its existing business model of charging lonely businessmen top dollar to speak to sexy female robots? Over email, Segal confirmed these slutty 'bots would no longer be in play.

Read more: People Explain Their Reasons for Cheating

"It was important to me to make sure that bots were no longer being used at the company before I agreed to become the new CEO. The board was very supportive and commissioned Ernst & Young to investigate the company's past use of bots," Segal responds. "The report verified that bots were phased out in 2014 in North America, and globally in 2015—and we are not and will not use bots going forward on any of our brands."

Security analyst Robert Graham of Errata Security is unconvinced. "Fembots are like doping in the athletic community," he argues. "Everyone has to do it in order to be competitive." Graham explains that there simply aren't enough female customers using Ashley Madison to satisfy the male customers. Fembots aside, "Ashley Madison has to do something to attract more women."

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When it comes to attracting philandering women, as well as men, it appears that the Ashley Madison execs have spent the last year earnestly doing their "female sexuality is fluid" homework. One promotional video features a bi-curious woman in a boring relationship making eyes at another woman across a bar (only one of their new TV spots explicitly references adultery).

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Segal tells Broadly this new positioning is all about attracting actual human women, rather than company-engineered cyborgs, to the site. "We've updated and modernized our website, our positioning, and our creative [approach] to be more inclusive, female-friendly, and to better reflect sexuality and relationships in 2016."

Rhetoric aside, is it really safe to use Ashley Madison? Segal claims that, post-breach, the company has invested heavily in security and more secure payment options. Graham urges caution. "Is it safe? I doubt it. They lied about the original data being safe, so there is no reason to trust them now. Users have to protect themselves, such as by using burner phones, burner email addresses, and anonymous gift cards to pay for the service.

"Companies like Ashley Madison are always vulnerable to attacks."