Noel Biderman, 39, is the founder of dating site Ashleymadison.com.
Its slogan, “Life is Short. Have an Affair,” tells you everything you need to know. But it’s controversial. Its adverts were banned from streetcars in Toronto and it has been described as “a business built on the back of broken hearts, ruined marriages and damaged families.”
First, the basics, please.
Ashleymadison.com started in 2002, and now we operate in the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We have about 6.4 million members.
Are you married?
Yes, I’m 39, happily married and have two children, aged 5 and 2.
So why should people use your website?
We did not invent infidelity — we just perfected it. Ashleymadison.com doesn’t make people more likely to have affairs — they’ve already reached that decision. Most of the problems associated with infidelity come because people get caught. We allow people who want to have affairs to do so discreetly — it’s secure, password-protected and prevents accidental disclosure.
Have you ever heard a moral argument that makes you think you’re wrong?
No. I think we save more marriages than anything else. Many people who use our site want to save their marriage, but are unhappy with elements of it — often intimacy. We help them meet people discreetly without harming their families, homes or jobs.
Would you dare say that to your wife?
We have had hypothetical conversations, and if intimacy in marriage ever went away and a partner was unhappy with the situation, I think it would be OK to seek it elsewhere without damaging the marriage.
We presume men are the heaviest users of your site?
We do get about two men to every woman, but that is slowly changing. We’re seeing a lot more women who are under 30 and who have been married for three years or less. That’s especially the case in places like California, New York, Chicago and Cleveland, and it represents changing attitudes.
That change in social attitudes — what do you mean?
People are simply less judgmental about personal relationships than they used to be, even in America, where there’s always going to be a puritanical element. The U.S. is still way behind Western Europe and Australia and Canada, where attitudes are far more liberal.
But you’re promoting promiscuity, surely?
Infidelity has been around a lot longer than Ashley Madison and we help people avoid big mistakes like having an affair in the workplace, where someone is eventually going to be fired.
When New York governor Eliot Spitzer was caught using prostitutes, you sent an open e-mail to him and the people of New York urging them to use Ashley Madison.
Given the anguish she was going through, how do you think Spitzer’s wife felt?
She’d obviously already decided to stand by him and I don’t accept that we did anything wrong. In fact, I think it was a great marketing campaign.
Cities and media outlets have turned your advertising away. Doesn’t that tell you something?
It tells me that many media outlets are on the verge of going bankrupt and haven’t the sense to take our advertising dollars. I am ready to sign the checks but they won’t even talk to us. Some cities are broke and on the verge of firing city workers, but they won’t take my money to advertise my site.