How do you rehabilitate the most notorious dating website on the Internet?
Less adultery, more women, says Ashley Madison’s new CEO Rob Segal.
Almost a year after millions of customers had their personal information leaked online, Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media, is hoping for a fresh start under the new leadership of Segal and president James Millership.
Speaking to the Toronto Star, Segal said he and his partner are using “a different playbook” than former CEO Noel Biderman, who resigned last August after the hack left the Toronto-based company facing two class action lawsuits and an investigation by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
The company has also been co-operating with a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation for about a year, Segal said.
“As leaders it’s our job to bring values to the organization such as trust, transparency and integrity, that really starts to reshape the internal culture,” Millership said.
First things first — boost security. Avid Life is now working with Deloitte’s cyber-security team to ensure around-the-clock monitoring and is beefing up its online payment system.
Second, hire Ernst & Young to conduct a thorough audit of the company’s user base, especially to address persistent rumours that Ashley Madison and its other websites used computer-programmed “fembots” to lure men into spending more money on the platform.
“This was essential for both Rob and I, to understand that that practice was no longer taking place on Avid Life Media properties,” Millership said.
Complaints filed with the FTC and obtained by the Star last year allege that the company was “astroturfing,” a practice whereby companies hire people to engage in online communities as genuine users. These complaints have not been verified.
Segal said the audit found the company did indeed use fake profiles, but that it began shutting them off in 2014. The last fembot went silent at the end of 2015, Segal said.
The ratio of real men to real women is about 5:1, which Segal said is “somewhat standard” across similar dating platforms. But he hopes the brand can improve those odds by broadening its message to be “more female friendly.”
“More of an understanding that females and males are equal sexes and they’re both on there looking for shared experiences,” Segal said.
The audit from Ernst & Young also revealed something surprising — about 45 per cent of Ashley Madison users were single, and the ones who were married weren’t always looking for an affair in real life.
Although Ashley Madison will probably never be as straitlaced as Match.com, Segal said the brand, whose tag line was “Life is short. Have an affair,” may try a “kinder, gentler approach.”
Rehabbing Avid Life’s image will be no small task, but both Segal and Millership insist they’re excited about the challenge.
The pair, who sold WorldGaming to Cineplex Entertainment Inc. in September for about $10 million, said they think Avid Life Media — and its huge user base — has big potential, despite its public relations setbacks.
“Every day we have to work on providing a better service,” Segal said.