Once bitten, twice shy, as the old proverb goes. And it is understandable if members of the infamous infidelity website Ashley Madison are wary of logging in again following a very public hack last year that saw their personal information and credit-card details published online for the world to see.
Unless being bitten is their thing. You see, Ashley Madison has had a makeover and part of the rebranding is moving the focus from extramarital affairs into more interesting areas.
"In 2016 people are looking for much different sexual experiences. We are a non-judgmental platform that reflects the tastes and usages of our customer base; we've seen partners looking for other couples, partners looking for a single partner, soft kink, all kinds of experiences," says James Millership, the new president of Ashley Madison's parent company Ruby.
Millership was hired post-hack, alongside CEO Rob Segal, to take the compromised website (once advertised as "100% discreet") and not only regain customer's trust by rebuilding its security infrastructure but also deal with the fact that it had been using chatbots to give the appearance of more female members: the male-to-female user ratio is five to one (as of June 2016).
“That’s a chapter that we closed prior to our arrival and will not be practised going forward,” says Millership with an air of finality.
Earlier this year, when a press release announced the rebranding of Ashley Madison’s parent company from Avid Life Media to Ruby, Segal noted that, although “bots are widespread in the industry”, an independent report confirmed that their website’s use of these female chatbots stopped in 2015.
Millership and Segal are more interested in changing the ratio; the new ad campaign targets the female demographic as well as those interested in polyamorous encounters.
“We brought out a campaign that is much more feminine, much more inclusive, a lot subtler and less in your face than in the past. I would say, as a result of this, our female sign-ups percentage has increased,” says Millership.
This rebranding is interesting in that Millership and Segal talk about the website Ashley Madison as if it was a “her”. A celebrity “her” gone off the rails only to be put back on track by their guidance.
“We humanise Ashley through the process [of rebranding]. We started calling Ashley “her”, we gave her traits; we look at Ashley like a starlet gone awry. We checked her into rehab, we fixed her up and she’s going to come back if the market still wants to hear from her,” says Segal.
It is difficult to gauge whether this is sincere or maybe a provocative statement designed to start a conversation so I suggest that perhaps the publicity around the hack itself may not have been all bad. Millership says cautiously: “Well, maybe you could look at it that way. Post-hack almost five million new people have signed up.”
This isn’t to say that Millership and Segal are simply taking advantage of bad publicity; they have been vocal in apologising to users of Ashley Madison and seem intent on regaining trust in the brand. A key aspect of this, they say, was changing the company culture, which was “readily needed and appreciated by our staff”.
“Our first task was to rebuild the culture of the [parent] company and part of that was clear and transparent communication with our staff that would spill over to how we handled our customers,” explains Segal.
“We’ve got 140 plus people who are working hard every day to earn back the trust of the customer and to build the company going forward,” adds Millership.
The biggest problem, however, was the fact that the website had been vulnerable to an attack in the first place. When Millership and Segal arrived they oversaw a rebuilding of security from the ground up. Millions were invested in enhanced security practices and Deloitte was brought on to manage cybersecurity on a 24/7 basis in addition to the hiring of a CSO and accompanying team.
Ashley Madison has gone from compromised website to being rated Level 1 PCI compliance. The PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) is a set of security standards designed to ensure that companies accepting, processing, storing or transmitting credit card information maintain a secure environment.
Segal says that very few, if any, websites in the dating space have this accreditation. Ironically, this now makes Ashley Madison one of, if not the most, secure dating websites out there.
“James and I both knew the biggest challenge would be to show our customers that we are fully committed to this and we’ve invested in [security] and will continue to do so,” says Segal.
“It is any CEO’s worst dream to go through what Avid Live Media went through prior to our arrival. Obviously the reality of operating a company in 2016 – any company – is that it is a different landscape right now.”
While this was a steep learning curve for Ashley Madison, it was a cautionary tale for other online companies handling sensitive data and credit card details. Segal says they have shown that the protection and security of customers’ data needs to be a key focus for everyone.
“We certainly went through what we did in a public forum but we’re better for it in terms of our investment in security going forward. I think other companies will look at this and say ‘we have to do this too’. Just look at Yahoo!, Sony, Target and all the others.
“We work every day to refine and enhance our security measures but no company in 2016 is fully safe. It’s a work in progress and is never finished.”
This is also a cautionary tale from the other side. No user of any online service can be absolutely guaranteed anonymity or immunity from the exposure of their personal details in the event of a data breach by hackers.
Whether you’re shopping, chatting, browsing or cruising online, there is no such thing as 100 per cent discreet.
THE IRISH PEOPLE WHO JOIN
Over 49 million people have joined Ashley Madison since it launched in 2002. Right now, 168,400 of these members are from Ireland. In comparison there are 1.8 million members from the UK. The average age of Irish members is 33 for women and 34 for men and, according to Ashley Madison's data, they are most likely to look for someone with a "sense of humour" who is "easy going".
But are Irish members looking for something on the side or are they singles seeking fun? In all, 43 per cent of Irish female members describe themselves as “attached female seeking males” and 58 per cent of Irish male members describe themselves as in a relationship. Almost 60 per cent might seem high but it is in line with men in the UK and US whereas there are significantly more attached Irish women using the site in comparison to their UK and US counterparts.
Wednesday might be hump day but the Irish tend to log in to Ashley Madison most frequently on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As you would expect, not many are looking for something long term (only 4 per cent) or a bit of harmless online chatting (3 per cent). More Irish members are interested in a short-term encounter (16 per cent) with 40 per cent opting for “anything goes”.
And forget about the saying, “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” According to Ashley Madison, while this is a favourite for American members, it’s not for the Irish. I won’t say what is.