“Two hundred years ago someone uniquely stepped up and said ‘Hey, we shouldn’t put people in prison or put scarlet letters on someone that is being unfaithful,’ and that person would have seemed like a radical,” says Avid Life Media CEO Noel Biderman, who hails from Toronto. “But in the end that is where the rest of society went to. That is what innovation is all about.”
After 19 million members in 26 countries, Ashley Madison is now the world’s largest extramarital dating website; in other words, a website for married people seeking additional affairs. While other online dating companies like Plenty of Fish and Match.com focus more on building relationships, Ashley Madison steers in the opposite direction by connecting people who want to hook-up in a discreet fashion.
Since the launch in 2001, Ashley Madison has received criticism and accusation for profiting off of ruined marriages and broken families. But affairs have been around way before the website’s existence. While some might frown at the prospect of adultery, Biderman believes he is creating a community for a large group of people who are in dire need for his service.
“Accountability lies in human decisions making,” Biderman told Techvibes. “We sometimes want to point fingers, but I can’t convince anyone to have an affair; not one on one, not on a TV commercial, and not if they read this article. People have affairs because their lives are complicated.”
Unlike other dating websites, Ashley Madison—which was just ranked 29th in the Profit 500—offers a secure platform for users. By separating their infidelity from social settings such as bars, Facebook and workplace, people can quietly go about their business without the constant fear of being discovered.
“The perfect affair means meeting someone and not getting caught,” explains Biderman, who was nominated for the 2013 Ernest and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. “I’m trying my best to give you the technologies to do so. When you sign up I’ll put your photo under lock and key. I have a panic button. I have discreet billing. And ultimately when you are finished with Ashley Madison, I don’t just delete your profile like other social networks do. I’ll go back and take back every message you have ever sent to anyone historically and yank them off the site.”
Canadian dating website Plenty of Fish recently eliminated their Intimate Encounters feature. POF founder Markus Frind explained the reasoning behind it as such: “Intimate Encounters on POF can be summed up as a bunch of horny men talking to a bunch of horny men pretending to be women.”
Meanwhile, Ashley Madison is making intimate encounters easier than ever with the launch of BlackBook, a new app for iOS and Android that allows members to call each other using disposable phone numbers in a secure manner to keep their affairs secret. And although Ashley Madison may seem like the dark side of Internet dating, Biderman assures the public that it is in fact a far more honest and robust platform than the alternatives.
Online dating is still in its infancy and has a lot of stigma to overcome. But Ashley Madison is taking a different route to earn respect. A full-time romance and a short-term intimacy is of equal value and that is exclaimed in Ashley Madison’s slogan, “Life’s short, have an affair.”
Dating is not just about holding hands and walking in the park, nor should it be chatting about sex with a mysterious avatar. People are as complicated as their relationships and Ashley Madison and Avid Life Media have created platforms for people of all types to make life’s engagements a little bit easier.