“Grace” was in a religion class when she opened up her e-mail and found out that someone had pranked her by making her an account on Ashley Madison, the infidelity-themed web site. She’d had no idea until that day in April, 2013 when she looked through her e-mails and saw that three men on the site had sent her “winks.”
Within the day, she’d requested that Ashley Madison delete her account. They agreed, and told her it would be “hidden” from the service. It wasn’t until Grace was contacted for this story that she even realized her data was still out there, and had become part of the Ashley Madison data breach and leak.
Age distribution at the time of joining Ashley Madison, based on data from the Ashley Madison leaked databases. Men in orange, women in blue.
While the majority of Ashley Madison users were older, the site boasted millions of members, and drew that membership from all age ranges – including college students. At first, this seems strange, given that few college students are married. Therefore, they wouldn’t seem like the natural demographic to join a site whose motto is, “Life is short, have an affair.”
However, what college students lack in married malaise, they more than make up for in curiosity. Joshua Ullom seems to typify this group, saying that he and some friends made an account for “drunken laughs.” They didn’t talk to anyone on the site, and Ullom says that the absurdity of the entire thing was hard to get past.
“We were just talking about how crazy the whole concept of the website was and just wanted to look around.”
Other stories are similar. Most report being curious or bored, or stunned that such a brazen infidelity site could exist. Several hinted that they might have really tried the site, but refused to take part in the story.
Then there’s Bryan Pauley.
Pauley was a student at Kent State university when he signed up, and he signed up hoping to meet women. He said that he was intrigued by the site’s “guaranteed” results. Having tried several free dating sites at the time and found that they seemed filled by people who were “catfishing,” Pauley decided that he would try something else, and see if a paid dating site was any better.
Distribution curve for women. Very similar to men, including the spike of membership from people who were 36 (or *claimed* they were 36) when they signed up.
Pauley’s hopes were disappointed.
He quickly found himself interacting with strange profiles that seemed to just “string you along.”
He said that these profiles all followed a similar pattern: A woman would message him, but refuse to ever send new pictures, or talk on the phone, or meet, or even chat on AOL Instant Messenger, which he said was very popular at the time.
Pauley believes that one of the profiles he exchanged messages with was an actual, honest, breathing woman – unlike the others, which he said he believes might have been fake profiles, meant to keep him interested and on the site. This seemingly authentic woman reported that she’d gone on a few dates with men she met through Ashley Madison, but the men were always “too aggressive.” Eventually, she stopped talking to Pauley, and after three months or so, Pauley closed his account and gave up on Ashley Madison.
Age distribution for men when they joined Ashley Madison. Same jump at age 36, and if you compare the *scale* of the male distribution curve, you’ll see that there’s roughly a five-fold difference in the number of men than women on the site. This may explain some of the “aggresssion” the woman Pauley corresponded with described.
“I just canceled it, and didn’t try online dating for several years,” Pauley said.
Others said that they never went as far as Pauley, with many saying that they quit as soon as they realized they’d have to pay to properly join.
Anthony Buck, a student at the University of Alabama at the time, said he signed up because his friends were hanging out and couldn’t believe that there was actually a site specifically for having an affair.
“My friends and I were all gathered around, and I guess I was the guinea pig,” Buck said. “I signed up once, and never got on again. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even able to view anything ’cause I wasn’t about to pay for the membership.”
Grace’s single day of membership was more than enough for her. She says she’s offended that her data is still out there, that this prank profile has come back from her past.
“I said, please, permanently remove anything associated with this name and this e-mail address, and they didn’t,” Grace said. “That’s not okay. I don’t like that. I know they suck.”
Click on the map below to get an interactive view of colleges around the country with e-mail addresses in the leak!
Map shows total number of matching e-mail addresses for colleges and universities across the country. Note that there is no way to know how many of those e-mail addresses were used deliberately by their owners.