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Last July, he found out that he wasn't the only one getting the silent treatment.
A hacker group called The Impact Team leaked internal memos from Ashley Madison's parent company, Avid Life, which revealed the widespread use of sexbots — artificially-intelligent programs, posing as real people, intended to seduce lonely hearts like Russell into paying for premium service. The strangers hitting you up for likes on Facebook? And, like many online trends, this one's rising up from the steamier corners of the web.
"I don't know if I can disclose this," Conru says, "but recently, I had a guy do a search to see, like, White House.gov, and we found that there are lots of .govs, and a lot of "The company incentivizes members to prove they're who they say they are by sending in copies of their drivers licenses in return for a "verified" button on their profiles (similar to the little blue checks on Twitter accounts).
The fact that men outnumber women on the site's heterosexual platform ten-to-one is just life, they figure, and the women on the site are seemingly active enough to keep the guys onboard.
"You can design a bot to fool fraud detection." But, in the case of a number of dating sites, developers aren't trying to weed out fake profiles — they are tirelessly writing scripts and algorithms to unleash more of them.
It’s the dirtiest secret of the billion online dating business and it stretches far beyond Ashley Madison.
"A lot of people think this only happens to dumb people, and they can tell if they're talking to a bot," says Steve Baker, a lead investigator for the Federal Trade Commission tells me. The people running these scams are professionals, they do this for a living."The scam starts with creating a chat bot, which is easier than you'd think. The Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, or ALICE, which generates scripts for chatterbots, has been around for decades.
These programs can be modified for any purpose, though designing a believable online dating companion can take considerable time and effort — perhaps too much for some of the troops at Ashley Madison.
With a Google image search, one of the women turns out to be pornstar Megan Summers. Any number of spammers and hackers might have created the profile with Summers' photo; it could be a housewife using the likeness to boost her appeal or conceal her identity. "It's a daily slog, going through hundreds of accounts every day evaluating them and deactivating them," he says.In 2012, Doriana Silva, a former Ashley Madison employee in Toronto, sued Avid Life Media for million complaining that she suffered from repetitive strain injury while creating over 1,000 sexbots — known within the company as "Ashley's Angels" — for the site.The company countersued Silva, alleging that she absconded with confidential "work product and training materials," and posted pictures of her on a jet ski to suggest she wasn't so injured after all."They're not the only ones using fake profiles," says Marc Lesnick, organizer of i Date, the industry's largest trade show. in mechanical engineering design from Stanford, Conru is among the smartest and most respected people in the online dating business."It's definitely pervasive."have to to be careful of what I say," Andrew Conru, the founder and owner of Adult Friend Finder, tells me one morning in his corner office high above San Jose. Since he launched AFF in 1995, he's turned the site into a swinger-friendly empire that's discreetly mainstream — boasting over 30 million members who pay a month to find "sex hookups, online sex friends or hot fuck friends." But while Conru has enough millions to retire several times over, he's giving a rare interview to blow the whistle on the widespread use of sexbots in the business.