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Pia Poppenreiter, the company’s CEO, stands and greets me with a rushed hug."You picked a great day to visit," she says, in a voice that suggests more cigarettes than hours of sleep.Several in the group were Ohlala users, but Poppenreiter puts those numbers in the low single digits. "I was exhausted, I was at the conference the whole day." There’s no question the group was pulling off a stunt.A leaked Facebook invitation for the party-within-a-party encouraged invitees to "grab a drink and mingle with men who crave the finer things in life." A publicity stunt involving a controversial app doesn’t sound like the stuff of trending topics, until you consider NOAH’s abysmal female attendance rate — at this year’s event, only 11 out of its 108 speakers were women."Search ‘hashtag escortgate’ on Twitter." I do so as we step out to the balcony and she lights up a Marlboro Red.A pink Ohlala banner tied to the railing billows silently behind her.This isn’t a huge roadblock in Germany, where the app first launched, and where sex work is legal.
By symbolically associating themselves with these women, Ohlala’s party crashers made the company a scapegoat for these rumors. Poppenreiter had already released a statement earlier in the day in response to the outcry, apologizing for letting things "get out of hand." But part of me can’t help but wonder if this was exactly what she had planned.According to Poppenreiter, Ohlala seeks to improve upon two perceived flaws that Tinder and other dating apps often fall into.First, the in-app chats that go nowhere — or worse, promising matches who ghost on you.It was concluded that these women were escorts, and that they had come to the party at the behest of Ohlala.Several women were rumored to be carrying credit card readers.