• Tech

Cheating 2.0: New Mobile Apps Make Adultery Easier

3 minute read
Jeremy Caplan

Two-timing politicians, take note: cheating has never been easier. AshleyMadison.com a personals site designed to facilitate extramarital affairs, now boasts slick iPhone and BlackBerry versions aimed at tech-savvy adulterers wary of leaving tracks on work or home computers. Because the apps are loaded from phones’ browsers, they leave no electronic trail that suspicious spouses can trace.

Even as public outrage boils up over the infidelity of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign, millions of Americans are sneaking online to do some surreptitious cheating of their own. In the past month alone, 679,000 men and women have used AshleyMadison to make a connection. According to their profiles, 92% of males on the Toronto-based site are married or otherwise attached, as are 60% of female members.

Unlike Craigslist, with its plain-Jane listings, AshleyMadison lets users customize profiles, chat anonymously and trade messages about adulterous preferences–all in an effort to make cheating as simple as using Match.com

The formula is working. AshleyMadison’s membership has doubled in the past year, to 4 million. Traffic on the site–which takes its name from the two most popular female names in 2001, the year it launched–tripled on June 22, the day after Father’s Day. That’s a day when, according to CEO Noel Biderman, men often feel underappreciated. Biderman says there’s a similar boost in interest from neglected wives and girlfriends after Valentine’s Day.

Critics call AshleyMadison a cruel sex site that profits from marital pain. “AshleyMadison is making bad choices, broken promises and faithlessness look like something that’s trendy and hip and fun to talk about at a cocktail party,” says Trish McDermott, a dating-industry consultant who helped found Match.com and Engage.com “It’s in the business of rebranding infidelity, making it not only monetizable but adding a modicum of normalcy to it.”

“We’re just a platform,” responds Biderman. “No website or 30-second ad is going to convince anyone to cheat. People cheat because their lives aren’t working for them.”

AshleyMadison isn’t the only site aimed at under-the-radar relationships. But it is the most successful site openly capitalizing on extramarital affairs. The company charges $49 for a package of credits that can be used to contact as many as 20 members. (The charge will show up on a credit-card bill as coming not from AshleyMadison but rather from the more blandly named ADL Media.) Members don’t pay to receive messages; they pay only to initiate contact, so some people–usually women–end up using the site for free.

Maybe that’s why many of the site’s new members are female. Biderman says the proportion of women on the site has grown from 15% when the service quietly launched in 2001 to nearly 30% today. “Humans aren’t meant to be monogamous,” he says. So would this freethinking CEO mind if his own wife used his site? “I would be devastated,” he says.

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