12 Chinese Dating Apps Shuttered For Using Bots Posing As Women

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Dating apps run by 21 firms in China have been shut down amid allegations of fraud affecting hundreds of thousands of customers.

According to the Modern Express newspaper, police have arrested more than 600 suspects operating across 13 provinces after it was revealed that some of their messages purporting to be from female users were in fact being automatically generated by computer programs.

The investigation began in August 2017, after one app was suspected of fraudulently charging customers to view pornographic videos that did not exist. When users complained, customer service representatives were instructed to invent excuses such as a malfunctioning mobile version or poor internet speed. Users would then be charged again each time they tried to view the imaginary content.

Further examination by law enforcement found that at least one company was using fake “sexy girl” accounts to chat with users, particularly newly registered members, via an artificial intelligence computer program that generated messages with greetings, compliments, and even requests for presents.

"They solicited gifts and posted other messages to lure the user into spending money, and thus illegally generating profit," the police report from Guangdong province states.

The apps reportedly demanded a “VIP charge” of 200 yuan to chat to their robo-girls. The criminal ring made a net profit of around $460,000 a month, authorities say, and laundered their earnings through illegal fourth-party payment platforms. All told, tens of thousands of people are believed to have been scammed out of a combined one billion yuan ($154 million USD).

Along with the mass arrests, police have frozen $15 million in company assets and seized hundreds of servers, computers, and mobile phones. The extensive scam affected a number of major cities and provinces in China, including Beijing, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Henan, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan, Hebei, Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong.

A Sina Weibo user summed up the case with a simple dash of humor: “It looks like AI has finally overtaken human intelligence.”

Though this is a remarkably large case of fraud, it’s hardly an isolated incident. JDI Dating, which operates multiple dating services, was ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to pay more than $600,000 in 2014 for creating fake profiles. Leaked internal memos from Ashley Madison's parent company, Avid Life, revealed the widespread use of sexbots in 2015.

In fact, whopping 59 percent of all online traffic — not just dating sites — is generated by bots, according to Rolling Stone and the tech analyst firm Are You a Human. The practice is nothing new, nor is it a problem that’s likely to be solved any time soon, so consider this a reminder to swipe with your wits about you.