Ashley Madison: Did many women use the infidelity site?

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The company behind infidelity dating website Ashley Madison has denied that hardly any women used the service.

Its rebuttal followed an article by Gizmodo which suggested that only around 12,000 of the site's 36 million members were real women.

Gizmodo had analysed the data stolen from Ashley Madison by hackers called the Impact Team.

But Ashley Madison said the analysis was based on "incorrect assumptions" and Gizmodo now acknowledges it "misunderstood" the data.

Did Ashley Madison use fake profiles?

There are suggestions from the leaked data, which included thousands of chief executive Noel Biderman's emails, that Ashley Madison did deploy fake profiles.

One email written to Mr Biderman described a contractor building profiles, known as angels or engagers, "en masse".

It even suggested staff were getting "writer's block" trying to invent believable profiles.

Ashley Madison's terms and conditions state some of the site's features "are intended to provide entertainment", but do not explicitly mention fake profiles.

What did the engagers do?

image captionSo-called engagers are said to have contacted men using a number of pre-written phrases

The BBC understands fake profiles were deliberately deployed in areas where there were few female profiles.

In 2013, the ratio of males to females in one Japanese city was 88:1. The leak suggests engagers brought this ratio down to 5:1.

According to Gizmodo, the engagers messaged real users - almost exclusively men - with greetings such as: "hows it going?" and "anybody home? lol".

The news site estimated that there were more than 70,000 engager profiles among the leaked data.

Ashley Madison charges men to reply to messages from women, including fake ones, so creating fake profiles would have been financially beneficial for the company.

How many real women used the website?

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image captionIt is difficult to determine how many real women used the site

Although the details of millions of accounts were leaked by the hackers, the dump did not contain the full database.

That makes it difficult to determine how many real women used the site.

One woman told the BBC she had used it to find a lesbian relationship.

On Monday, Avid Life Media which owns the website released a statement insisting it had an active community of female users.

"In the first half of this year the ratio of male members who paid to communicate with women... versus the number of female members who actively used their account... was 1.2 to 1," it said.

Without knowing how many of the site's 31 million men paid to reply to messages, it is not possible to work out how many women were active on Ashley Madison.

The company insists that despite the enormous data leak it has still managed to attract new members. It says 87,596 women joined the website in the last week.

Of course, many of those are likely to be journalists, or people signing up to nose around a secretive website that has had its dirty laundry aired quite publicly.

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