(Both sides agreed to drop the suits early last year.) Despite the controversy, the company subsequently attempted to streamline its bot-creation process.
For AFF, bots are a cop out, though the appeal of building them is obvious enough to Conru.
"If I wanted to boost our revenue and move to the Cayman Islands, we could probably double our revenue simply by using bots," he says.
In the end, about 80 percent of paying customers were contacted by an Ashley Angel.
"It appears they were scamming their users," Conru says.
D., boot up the site of a top competitor, Fling, and demonstrate how, shortly after registering, they are wooed by what appear to be bots. "We doubt it really is Megan Summers." In an email, Fling owner Abe Smilowitz writes, "We absolutely don't use fake profiles and bots…Us and AFF are pretty much the only guys that don't." This could be true. "We still think they do." To keep out the bots of spammers and hackers on AFF, Conru, who launched the site shortly after getting his doctorate as a means to meet women, codes his own countermeasures and frequently checks user names and IP addresses for veracity.
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.
Whether you know it or not, odds are you've encountered one. "The majority of the matches are often bots," says Satnam Narang, Symantec’s senior response manager. Keeping the automated personalities at bay has become a central challenge for software developers.
"It's really difficult to find them," says Ben Trenda, Are You Human's CEO.
"It's been a cat and mouse game for 20 years." And it's not a game he always wins.
The company suffered a massive hack that exposed the profiles of an estimated 3.5 million members — which generated international headlines by revealing high-profile kink-seekers on Capitol Hill, in Hollywood and higher education.
Bloggers poured over the data, estimating that of the 5.5 million female profiles on the site, as few as 12,000 were real women — allegations that Ashley Madison denied. Bots are infiltrating just about every dating service.