Interview: Noel Biderman - founder of AshleyMadison.com
Self-proclaimed 'most hated man on the internet' Noel Biderman is the founder of attention grabbing affair-based dating website Ashleymadison.com. But should we be shocked? Hongkongers seem more than keen to get involved, as Anna Cummins discovers.
You most likely already know about Ashleymadison.com. The affair-based dating website, which has just launched in Hong Kong, has been courting controversy since its launch in 2002, with provocative slogans ('Life is short. Have an affair.') and painfully overt advertising campaigns (see below). No matter your opinion, it's impossible to ignore the website's blinding success; 20 million people globally use the site, with a new user signing up every 6.5 seconds.
The site's Canadian founder, monogamously married Noel Biderman (pictured above), is no stranger to the reactions he has provoked in many of the 30 countries that he has launched his site in. "[Previously] I've had death threats, I've had to call the FBI – I've had hate groups... we've been in Hong Kong 48 hours and there's already a religious group trying to protest our existence," Biderman says, calmly.
Unfortunately, according to Biderman's stats, many people reading this right now will have been unfaithful at some time or another. The site has only launched this week in our city, but that hasn't stopped us sneaky lot trying to get a piece of the action. Biderman tells Time Out the facts – "in the last year we saw some 350,000 people from Hong Kong trying to get in [to the website]. As a per-capita basis, that's the highest in the world." Oh dear guys. And Biderman is expecting that 500,000 Hongkongers will sign up to the site in the first six to eight months of its launch – yes, 1 in 14 of us will be signed up to ashleymadison by next year – meaning the actual figure of people having affairs all over the city is certain to be a lot higher than that. Ouch.
Biderman openly declares why he thinks that Hongkongers will respond well to his site. "The biggest factor the world over on how often women have affairs, is their financial independence," he asserts. "Women in Hong Kong strike me as very career-focused and therefore very independent. You meet interesting people, can travel the world, pay your own bills… you might want the kid but you don't want the husband. I think we'll have a ton of married women [in Hong Kong] gravitating towards the service. I think the married male profile will be what it always is – that first time dad, that empty nester, that man in their 60s whose wife is just not interested any more. So they can pop a pill and just go to it."
Harsh words. But perhaps there is a harsh reality here, too. Biderman continues "I think, 70 to 80 percent of all relationships have infidelity attached to them. I'm basing that on a very educated guess, of the 20 million visitors I get each month. It couldn't really be any other way... If you stop 100 people in the street in Hong Kong, and ask them if cheating on your partner is wrong, 99 percent of them will say yes. But the majority of them are going to do it! It's the only topic in the world where we say one thing and do another. In our hearts, all of us cheat every single day. We have shackled ourselves… the psychological term is cognitive dissonance. That's what we've created for ourselves; we've put ourselves in this crazy stasis where we're trying to fight our DNA." Biderman completes his side of the argument with the point that 'cohabitation leads to a lack of attraction – when a married man hears his wife's voice, his testosterone levels drops. It just does! That's millions of years of evolution; it's all genetics we're talking about'.
Despite Biderman's leaning towards the scientific explanation behind cheating, there is, of course nothing to celebrate about extra-marital affairs. When we ask whether married users of the site should feel guilty when they log in, the ever-composed Biderman falters briefly. "No one has ever asked me that before, so give me a second…" He continues after a pause, "Guilt is that religious word to me. Society has a narrative, you're supposed to behave this way and if you don't there is something wrong with you… there's nothing wrong with you if you pursue an affair. You're not atypical, if anything you're one of millions." We're not sure if we agree…