Noel Biderman: The King of Infidelity dethroned by hackers

Noel Biderman, the founder of adulterous affairs website Ashley Madison, claims he's the saviour of marriages. His many critics beg to differ.


Noel Biderman: The 'Google of cheating'

"Life is short. Have an affair," runs the now infamous slogan that Noel Biderman devised for his dating website Ashley Madison a service for people who want to cheat on their partners. Go to the home page, says The Economist, and you'll see a picture of a woman holding a finger to her lips. "So much for promising to keep secrets."

Last month, Impact Team a group of hackers stole the site's user database and transaction history going back to 2007. Last week they released it online. The names, addresses and sexual preferences of some 30 million users are now open to anyone who wants to dig in. "A deluge of revelations" about the private habits of celebrities, business leaders and politicians seems likely. It has certainly been "an affair to remember".

The self-styled "King of Infidelity" is a married father of two who says he's never cheated on his wife, says The Independent. But he isn't immune to the hack. The stolen data includes nearly 200,000 emails from his own archive. Doubtless, they will soon be scoured by lawyers preparing class suits on behalf of former clients (at least eight suits have already been filed across the US).

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The leak has scuppered Ashley Madison's efforts to list in London this year, says Business Insider. But that's probably the least of Biderman's worries. Given that the firm's key selling point privacy has been blown, the leak could be "the death warrant of the business" and its parent company, Avid Life.

"After a few minutes in his company, it's easy to see why many people detest Noel Biderman," noted the Evening Standard last year. A balding former lawyer and sports agent, "he switches between sleazy salesman and Silicon Valley smartass with ease".

Born in 1971, he hails from Toronto, where the company is now based. He came up with the idea of a site for prospective adulterers after realising "how much time and money his sport-star clients spent on mistresses". Despite claiming that the site doesn't encourage, but "merely facilitates" marital infidelity, Biderman believes he provides a valuable service.

We would all be happier, he says, if we could only detach marriage ("a union between two people with shared economic values and interests") and sex (an innate human desire). By facilitating the latter discreetly, he reckons to have been the "saviour" of many marriages.

"Traditionally, adultery has not attracted much in the way of promoters, pitchmen and proselytisers," says The Times. Biderman has become used to death-threats. When he travelled to Australia to launch the site in 2010, "he paid two ex-MI6 operatives to travel with him".

An avowed libertarian, he has boasted of running "the ultimate capitalist business" operating on the very edge of what's acceptable in a market economy. "Traditional businesses are slow to react to controversy. I make a profit from it." We may not hear too many similar boasts in future. Ever since the data breach, Biderman has gone to ground.

What we can learn from the Google of cheating

"It's easy to gloat," says Rob Price on Business Insider. "Millions of unfaithful partners are getting their comeuppance" as is a company that profits from cheating. "But this hack should worry everyone regardless of your feelings about infidelity" it is a "goldmine for blackmailers" that "puts people in real danger". One initial analysis found more than 15,000 US military government email addresses in the dump. Moreover, many of Ashley Madison's claimed 40 million members worldwide are likely to live in countries "where adulteryor homosexuality are illegal" and subject to "very serious punishments".

Many users are particularly incensed that having paid $15-$20 to make use of Ashley Madison's "full delete" service, their details have still appeared, says Alex Hern in The Guardian. "The internet is bad at keeping secrets," says The Economist. If this exposure "proves to be the wake-up call that encourages companies to start taking security more cautiously, then at least some good will have come from the sorry affair".

We only have ourselves to blame, says Helen Lewis in The Sunday Times. Faced with the "small chance of a catastrophic data" breach versus "the absolute certainty" of missing out on a tempting service, "we always pick the former", regardless of risk. "We scream at a harmless spider yet fly into Ashley Madison's web." It won't change. "A few people will get sacked, a few lawyers will get rich", but our behaviour "will twang back into its old groove like the snap of a cheap G-string".