In response to recent reports that only 12,000 of Ashley Madison's 5.5 million female users were represented by real accounts, the company has issued a statement containing their own statistics on female usership. Last week, Annalee Newitz of Gizmodo analyzed the hacked Ashley Madison data and published her interpretation in a report titled "Almost None of the Women in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site". Of course, the findings were staggering, if not all that surprising. By comparing email addresses to IP addresses, tracking the last time users checked their messages, and tracking the last time users chatted via the Ashley Madison messenger system, Newitz determined that female usership was overwhelmingly made up of fake accounts.
Five days later, she backpedaled the report, citing a misinterpretation of the data. In her reinterpretation, she realized that what she was actually looking at was evidence of bots on the site, overwhelmingly of the pretend-female persuasion, sent by Ashley Madison developers to "engage" with real men on the site. Bots did not engage with women, or gay users.
First of all, props to journalists-who-code like Newitz for even attempting to interpret the data, because I can barely interpret the download of my Twitter archive (WHAT DID I SAY IN 2009, BECAUSE IT WAS PROBABLY DUMB).
Second of all, Ashley Madison responded to the first report in a statement released on the same day the second, bot-accusing report was published. They cited the following statistics on their female usership (though no mention of how many of these accounts were real people, and how many were programmed futuresex lovesound machines devised by the company to convince dudes that there were plenty of salivating women on the site ready to meet their needs):
1. 87,596 Women Signed Up For Ashley Madison Last Week
"Despite having our business and customers attacked, we are growing. This past week alone, hundreds of thousands of new users signed up for the Ashley Madison platform – including 87,596 women."
2. Women Sent 2.8 Million Messages On Ashley Madison Last Week
"Last week, a reporter who claimed to analyze the stolen data made incorrect assumptions about the meaning of fields contained in the leaked data. This reporter concluded that the number of active female members on Ashley Madison could be calculated based on those assumptions. That conclusion was wrong."
3. The Ratio Of Male To Female Communication In The First Half Of This Year Was 1.2 To 1
"These numbers are the main reason that Ashley Madison is the number one service for people seeking discreet relationships."
4. 70 Percent Of Its Revenue Is From Customers Making Repeat Purchases
"We think that shows happy customers on a consistent basis."
Here's why that last statistic is significant: only men pay to play on Ashley Madison. Women are not required to pay to communicate with men. So, if bots are on the site, chatting with guys and enticing them "to pay credits to talk further," as the second Gizmodo report speculated, of course the site has a healthy repeat purchasing rate.
Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.