Ashley Madison, the extra-marital dating site whose slogan is “Life is short, have an affair”, has long been accused of moral bankruptcy, but it seems that has never bothered the site’s founder & CEO Noel Biderman, a self-confessed family man who says he has never used the site personally.
Back in 2010 he boasted that 31,000 women signed up to the site the day after Mother’s Day, apparently in response to their spouse’s underwhelming or non-existent attempts to make the day a special enough one.
After appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to defend his marketing strategy, where he was accused of being morally bereft and “pimping” the service, Biderman tweeted a note of thanks and remarked that the free publicity had resulted in a record 42,000 new sign-ups to the site.
Biderman, a former lawyer and sports agent, who once offered Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport $10m to rename itself Ashley Madison Airport (they turned him down) may finally have had the smile wiped firmly from his face given the storm of controversy that has accompanied last week’s news that hackers have posted details from some 33m supposedly secret accounts online.
Amongst the data to have been leaked are 36m email addresses, street addresses, phone numbers, credit card transactions and GPS co-ordinates, as well as, those who have been parsing the data claim, 15,000 email addresses ending .mil, indicating the user worked within the US military, and more than 100 UK government email addresses.
The group responsible for completing the hack and releasing the data online call themselves The Impact Team, and claim that they carried out the online attack in protest against the site’s fraudulent data and deceitful members.
In July they sent a warning to Avid Life Media, the Canadian company that owns Ashley Madison, releasing a number of random user names and data from other dating related Avid Life owned sites; when Avid Life failed to take down the Ashley Madison site, they unleashed the full list of names onto a Tor website along with a statement:
“We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data.”
They added “Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles”, before encouraging users to turn on Ashley Madison: “Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you’ll get over it.”
If Noel Biderman did not give a hoot about moral bankruptcy, their thinking seems to have gone, how would he feel about the prospect of financial bankruptcy?
The legal wheels are already in motion; Canadian Eliot Shore, a widower who claims he joined the site for a short period after losing his wife to breast cancer, is the plaintiff in a $578m class-action lawsuit filed by 2 Canadian law firms, but it’s believed by one British law firm that legal costs could run into the billions, given the size of the leak.
There are two main legal avenues for distressed users to go down. One is, naturally, distress caused by the leak, although the thought of appearing in court and revealing the extent of their involvement on the site, which includes listing sexual fantasies, let alone informing their spouses of their intention to sue, may put the majority of ex-members off doing so.
The other angle is “false claims”; given that Ashley Madison is supposed to have included a “full delete” feature in exchange for a $20 fee, which clearly does not seem to have worked, and the unsubstantiated rumour that 90% of users were men, and the very real (you can find it in the small print) accusation that Ashley Madison created fake female profiles and fabricated “winks” for “market research” purposes, this seems to be the best option, but it is not thought that many will take it.
Avid Media had revenues of $114m in 2014 according to the leak, around 90% of which came from Ashley Madison (the company owns other sites such as CougarLife and Established Men). If enough members are willing to come clean about their indiscretions, the company could be completely wiped out, and the hackers will have triumphed.
For those interested, here are some instructions for how to locate the leak