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Business unusual: Ashley Madison

Ashley Madison takes advantage of the circumstances surrounding its users to illicit the money it can.

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Image: Ashley Madison
Image: Ashley Madison

Ashley Madison is a website which builds its revenue through duplicity, which as a business model may seem acceptable due to its users being somewhat duplicitous themselves. The site is for married people looking to cheat on their partners. "Life is short. Have an affair." ran as its slogan from its inception in 2001 until July 2016 when it became "Find Your Moment."

Membership is free. Simply register some details and you're good to go. Except that once a member, as with many dating websites, pay-to-use features mean that the prices quickly materialise with force. Rather than paying a regular subscription, users purchase credits which can be exchanged for features such as the ability to interact with other members through instant messaging or video calls.

For some features, only one of the parties needs to pay. With many, many more males registered with the site than women, this creates a supply and demand situation that means men are almost always the ones to pay. Efficient, if somewhat exploitative.

The moral status of Ashley Madison has often been considered dubious. It raises the question: if people are going to cheat, why not create a platform to catalyse it?

Exploitation continues to be a running theme at this point. While credits are the main source of income, Ashley Madison generates a steady source of revenue by charging members $19 to permanently delete their accounts.

It doesn't take long to provide reasons as to why someone might wish to rid themselves of the site. Some may have signed up and regretted considering infidelity. Some may have realised that they don't want their data available. Some may even have accounts set for them against their will: whether as a prank, or something more sinister.

It works less as a product for seducers and more as a product which seduces users seeking alternative company before financially entangling them, possibly to a never-ending degree. Data disclosures in 2015 revealed that the data of accounts "permanently deleted" were all retrievable.

It's a risky platform to partake in. Yet it has over 46 million users and generated $115m in 2014. A symptom of a social problem? Probably. Exploiting a gap in the market? Definitely.

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