11 titillating minutes with Ashley Madison renders me impressed

Elaine Huang

Much has been said about pro-adultery site Ashley Madison in Singapore, but what do we really know about CEO Noel Biderman? e27 grills the man over decisions


Ashley Madison has been making headlines in Singapore. The pro-adultery platform and dating site enables users to chase after extra-marital affairs, and was targeted by local Minister as “unwelcome”.

Access to the site has also been blocked by the Media Development Authority of Singaporee27 managed to grab CEO and Founder, Noel Biderman (seen in header image), to talk more about the extra-marital affairs platform.

Here’s the full transcript of our 11-minute long chat over Skype. Here’s the audio recording on SoundCloud:

e27: Why did you start Ashley Madison? Was it a problem that needed solving?

Biderman: Yeah, I think it was. I think if you look back to 2000 and 2001, we dramatically changed a whole number of industries. For example, music right? We started sharing mp3s and so, the CD-Rom went by the way of the dodo bird. File sharing took place. The VHS gave way to online streaming and … was disrupted.

Truthfully, the way we started to find love was dramatically different. You didn’t have to rely on your parents or your circle or social network of friends; you could go online and find anyone of any ethnic background across the globe to try and connect with. And so, those were all revolutionary, and each one of those things came with …

Online file sharing created a lot of piracy concerns for the music industry. Having adult content streamed online was really problematic if young people got access to it. And ultimately, online dating potentially has fatal flaws. It was an attraction place where so many married men would just sign up and pretend to be single. Because women were really exposing themselves. They were saying, “This is what I would look for in an ideal guy.” It became very easy to use that fiction against them and say, “This is exactly who I am,” and get what they want.

Women truthfully feel very violated because they wouldn’t have gotten into an affair, wouldn’t have felt violated, emotional or physical relationship was fake because that person was already married. It really did needed to be clearly… and ultimately, that was the goal.

e27: I also understand there were many headlines made about Ashley Madison’s pending launch in Singapore. Why the aggression? Why not start quietly and discreetly, then perhaps the ban wouldn’t be in place.

Biderman: I wish you and I had spoken. You are quite right on one level but also, got to understand that long ago, I became very successful, and long ago, I could have just called it a day and sat on a beach and watch the Sunrise. But it dawned on me that it’s not just journalists, it’s not just educators and not just politicians that … but also entrepreneurs. We shape the society we live in. Nobody would deny that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have changed the world… There is a social responsibility to entrepreneurship as well.

What I felt was that this topic, the big data I was sitting on, was so misunderstood. Think about it. You and I can’t find professors in Singapore, who would with any confidence, talk to us about infidelity. Because here, he or she couldn’t study it. The unfaithful don’t put their hands up and say, “Yeah, follow me around!” The University students, the typical cohort you might look to, but they’re not married and is not a good cohort in that regard so I was sitting on a mountain of evidence that told me that we really didn’t understand monogamy.

We were really quite ignorant. So I felt the need to shout it from the rooftop. I felt the need to help our society become more functional. So, I don’t come quietly, I come very loudly. And I guess 34 out of 34 times, that has worked wonderfully for me. It made me wealthy beyond my dreams and the fastest growing dating site on the planet. I’m number 35 with Singapore, and it has failed miserably.

e27: In your interview with Today Online, you mentioned that infidelity has societal benefits. What are these benefits that you spoke of?

Biderman: Let’s take a marriage, right? Typical marriage if you speak to a woman or man, they will tell you that the most important thing on that list for that marriage is raising their children. They’ll say, economic values, social values… Those are all the top things. It’s pretty rare to meet a married couple who says “Sex is the priority,” that “Sex is number one”. That’s not to say they want life to celibacy. That is important to them, but it’s not the most important.

So why would you ask someone who’s maybe struggling with monogamy to give up all the other things I just mentioned? The child rearing, the economics, the homes, the extended family, in exchange for a new sexual … That doesn’t make any sense. What most people in affairs are seeking is to have their cake and eat it too. They want to stay married. They want to keep that foundation going, but they want to break the monogamy.

Ultimately, we have to stand back as a society and ask, “What’s the value of marriage?” There’s primarily the raising of kids together in that marriage. That is incredibly valuable because the data around the room is uniform. Kids raised by single parents don’t have as much access to higher education. Get into more trouble with the law. Have more issues around drug and alcohol use. If we want to prevent those real societal issues, we have to find a way to keep marriages together. By forcing monogamy down their throats, we’re doing the exact opposite.

AshleyMadison

e27: Do you think that Singaporeans were overreacting? The whole 26,000 Facebook fans who planned to overthrow Ashley Madison. Why do you think they reacted the way they did?

Biderman: First of all, you’re assuming that’s all valid. I don’t have any evidence to the … but let’s just say it’s real. Here’s my evidence. I have 80,000 people a month to almost 700,000 who have been trying to log into Ashley Madison from Singapore. So that 26,000, I have 700,000. In any society, you usually get to weigh the two things. I have way more people who are interested in using my service than not. I also have 23 million members. That’s a lot more than the entire population of Singapore. I must be doing something right.

People are allowed to voice their concern. The Vatican, when we launched in Italy, voiced their concerns. The regulatory board in the UK voiced their concerns about our ads. The Chilean minister voiced his concerns. Ultimately, they voiced their concerns and those who didn’t want to use my service didn’t use it. And those who did, did. We found a compromise.

When you create prohibitions like this, it only backfires. That’s why … prohibitions around alcohol and different things. Even more so when it comes to human sexuality, you can’t have these prohibitions. Think about it. Right now, there are places on Earth where if a woman has an affair, they will put her to death.

You know what, sadly, people still have affairs in those places. Because it’s asking you to not have food to eat, or water to drink. It’s that much of a biological drive. So women risk their lives to have affairs, so do you really think that this ban will accomplish… will stop a single affair from happening in Singapore? I doubt it.

e27: What’s next after the site gets blocked? Will you still have operations using VPN? 

Biderman: Those people use VPN, you know that’s a sophisticated group who are facing and that’s their prerogative. But I’m speaking to a much wider … population. Infidelity touches way more people than one realises. My goal, my desire, would be to have dialogue. My goal is to say, “Is this a policy or what? Are you just picking on Ashley Madison or are you enforcing this uniformly?” Because my guess is, two lovers call each other on mobile phones all the time. Are you shutting down mobile phones technology? My guess is two lovers are connected on Facebook. Are you shutting down Facebook?

Where does this stop and start? Part two is, do you want to hear some of their social data we’re sharing. Do you want to understand the work we’re doing with institutions and done around the globe. What about the fact that affairs happen in Singapore? I can show you what really goes on. So, what are you doing about those kinds of things? You seem to acknowledge it happens in society. What action plans are you taking?

Lastly, I’m prepared to compromise. I created a compromise in the UK to get my advertising seen. They wanted me to change the nature of the service so that I am welcoming of single people – okay, I’m probably prepared to do that. But let’s have a dialogue.

e27: Will you ever move to other parts of Southeast Asia, or does Singapore just prove the region is too conservative and challenging?

Biderman: It’s not too conservative, it’s not too challenging. I think this is a anomaly. We have had success in Japan and Hong Kong. We will have success in Taiwan and Korea. We will find a way to bring this to the Philippines and Thailand. And ultimately, I genuinely believe Ashley Madison will be available to anyone in Singapore who wants to access it. I really believe that.

e27: I have been talking to friends, and some of them say, “What about the kids?” And you have two of them. So, what are your thoughts on the matter? Does infidelity really cause marriages to break up, and kids suffer as a result?

Biderman: You can mistake two things. I think what your friends are mistaking is infidelity and discovered infidelity. They are two dramatically different things. A part of why I built this service is because people do affairs really poorly. They have them with colleagues at work and now they’re risking their jobs and their relationships, and by the way, it’s not a secret – everybody will figure it out. People are really hostile about that because they think others are getting favouritism or unfair promotions.

Or they have affairs with their sister’s husband. Now they risk their relationship, and their relationship with their sister. People pursue affairs really foolishly, and ultimately, they bring up the kids thing – I agree with them. But don’t mistake an affair with a discovered affair. 90 percent of affairs never get discovered.

And you use it on Ashley Madison, the product is uniquely designed for being a secret. It’s all about discretion and anonymity. … You don’t just delete your profile when you’re finished, we’ll have to recall every message you’ve ever sent, every photo you’ve … it’ll never even appear there. The most successful affair is being never discovered, and the kids will much rather have their both parents together even if one is unfaithful than have them break up.

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