March 29, 2018
New president says the cheating-spouse website has cleaned up its act after a notorious data breach exposed its both its clients and some questionable business practices. But experts say its continued success is owed in no small part to the durability of infidelity.

Ashley Madison, the Toronto-based website that caters to people seeking sex outside of their marriages, was dealt with what should have been a crippling blow for any company.
In 2015, it experienced one of the largest data breaches in history, which saw the personal information of 32 million clients released, leading to many reported cases of divorces, resignations, firings and suicides.
But with a rebranded parent company and a new chief technology officer, Ashley Madison is very much still in business — one that both the company and an independent audit report say is growing exponentially.
Could infidelity be the most durable business in the history of commerce?
In an interview with the Star, Ruben Buell, president and chief technology officer of Toronto-based Ruby Life (formerly Avid Life Media), Ashley Madison’s parent company, said the company now has 55 million members.
An external audit by Ernst and Young found there were more than 5.6 million new registrations to the website in 2017. In Canada, membership grew by 17,371 a month. The male-to-female ratio, according to the report, is now 1:1 globally — previously, many of the female users had been fake accounts.
Cheating-spouse website Ashley Madison has its affairs in order after notorious data breach
Psychologists say Ashley Madison is tapping into the enduring appeal of infidelity — while the company didn’t invent it, it has created a space for it in the form of, what New York-based sex therapist Sari Cooper called, “the modern version of the baths, the brothel, tavern, or dungeon.”
“People have been having affairs long before Ashley Madison has been around,” said Toronto psychologist Dr. Oren Amitay. The website is merely enabling it by “removing the fear of the other person complicating their life — or at least think its removing the fear,” he added.
“Anything that convinces the population that this is normal contributes to more people doing that behaviour,” said Amitay. “People may use the website as a way to rationalize their decision by believing, for instance, that “infidelity is so common they even have a website for it. If its so common than it might not be such a bad thing.”
Amitay said Ashley Madison has honed in on a phenomenon that he’s often observed: affairs can happen when someone is reminded of their mortality after, for instance, a loved one has died or they have a serious health case.
“When death is thrown in your face, it makes you think. Some will change careers, others will take up skydiving, but affairs are the easiest way to change things,” said Amitay. He acknowledged that in some instances, when a person is in a “horrible, terrible, loveless, sexless marriage,” Ashley Madison can provide a useful platform for temporary escape.
More than 40 per cent of marriages are expected to end in divorce before the 30th anniversary, Statistics Canada reported in 2008, the last year the agency collected numbers on divorce. The limited research on infidelity suggests that, in North America, 15 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men will have extramarital affairs.
Claire Smith (who requested for her real name to not be used) has been on the site since 2002. The 45-year-old Toronto woman says the platform helped her deal with a sexless marriage with her first husband. “He was perfectly happy and I wasn’t,” she said. “My marriage was over regardless of the affair.”
Smith met her current husband on the website in 2008, and both are still Ashley Madison users. “You know, I think we almost set ourselves up for failure to think this has to be a monogamous relationship,” she said.“I don’t think (Ashley Madison is) any different from a gambling website, or Uber or anything, right? It just facilitates whatever the need is.”
Alicia M. Walker, the author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: power, Pragmatism and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity, surveyed many women who use Ashley Madison and found many of them felt the same way.
“The biggest shock for me was that women talked about infidelity being an exercise in power and sexual autonomy,” said the assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University. These women were very pragmatic in the way they talked about it, said Walker, and spoke about fulfilment but also guilt. “They recognized this is not how its meant to be … but the depth of someone’s need must be really great to withstand all of this and do it.”
In his first year on the job, Buell said he has spoken to clients through weekly surveys that also indicate the need Walker refers to is, in fact, great. “Married dating,” as the company calls it, targets those who “feel lonely or they feel like something is missing from their life,” he said.
Cheating-spouse website Ashley Madison has its affairs in order after notorious data breach
Ashley Madison hired Ernst and Young to rebuild trust with those customers, said Buell, and to show how the company has reinvented itself from the ground up “one day at a time,” focusing primarily on security and discretion.
Since 2015, the 120-employee company has undergone multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuits, an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and a complete management makeover and a shift in public relations.
“If Ashley Madison gets hacked, it will change your life, so we put our standards way above even what financial situations would need,” said Buell.
Richard Powers, associate professor at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, told the Star the company’s comeback is an exception, and can be attributed to the very specific sector of dating that Noel Biderman, the company’s founder, created for itself.
“(Companies) that do come through (after a major scandal) usually come back under a different brand,” said Powers. “What is surprising is that they stayed with the same brand. But it’s familiar in the marketplace and they obviously felt the cache hadn’t been damaged to the point that people thought.
“It’s quite amazing.”
Powers, who teaches the case of Ashley Madison in his executive MBA class, added that Ashley Madison doesn't not have a monopoly over the infidelity market “but they’re the most recognized because there’s always an advantage to the first move — they were the first ones.”
The data breach increased the company’s notoriety, aided by the fact that Biderman was “a master marketer” — helping put the name “Ashley Madison” on the front pages without spending a dime, said Powers.
“There is a great brand here. There is a great business here,” said Buell. “What happened in 2015 happened. But we have survived and we are growing again and we will continue to grow.”
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