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hristopher Russell owned a small bar in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, but, like a lot people these days, figured he had better odds hooking up online.
When he saw an ad for the dating site Ashley Madison, which boasted 36 million members and the tagline, "Life is short, have an affair," he decided to check it out. Everyday, he received more of these come-ons — until he finally said, "Fuck it." "I'm like, ' Hey, all these women want to talk with me,'" he recalls. As anyone who's dated online knows, this is not entirely unusual. "I just figured they're not interested anymore," Russell says.
"' Let me go ahead and put in my credit card information.'" Russell paid $100 for 1,000 credits, which he could spend on sending replies or virtual gifts. After a few months of rejection, he didn't bother to log back on Ashley Madison again.
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.
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.
A whopping 59 percent of all online traffic — not just dating sites — is generated by bots, according to the tech analyst firm, Are You a Human. Spammers are using them to lure victims on Tinder, according to multiple studies by Symantec, the computer security firm.
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.
"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.