MANILA, Philippines - "Life is short, have an affair." That is the slogan of AshleyMadison.com, an online dating service that provides a platform for those who wish to cheat on their partners.
The Toronto-based website, which takes its name from the 2 most popular female names in 2001, claims to have some 5.7 million members worldwide. It seems to be attracting more males than females, though -- Ashley Madison said about 70% of their members are men.
Just like most social networking sites, members of Ashley Madison can send and receive messages, gifts and photos, among others. They need "credits," which are purchased by real money, to initiate contact.
A 30-minute chat session, for instance, costs 30 credits while a teddy bear web gift is worth 20 credits.
"To purchase credits and upgrade your account so you can start communicating on a more personal level, click the 'Buy Credits' button where you can review all our discrete and convenient methods of payment," the website read.
When it comes to a user's relationship status, however, Ashley Madison takes on a different (and rather controversial) approach as compared to most social networks such as Facebook.
Users get to choose from the following relationship statuses, some of which have drawn criticism from a number of Internet users across the globe:
- attached male seeking females
- attached female seeking males
- single male seeking females
- single female seeking males
- male seeking female
- female seeking male
For one, Trish McDermott, a consultant who helped put up dating website Match.com, called Ashley Madison "a business built on the back of broken hearts, ruined marriages, and damaged families."
|Just a platform? Ashley Madison claims that it does not encourage committed individuals to stray or have an affair.
"It's in the business of rebranding infidelity, making it not only monetizable, but adding a modicum of normalcy to it," McDermott said in an article posted by Time.com. (See full article here)
"Ashley Madison 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," she added.
Some have also accused the website of being a scam, claiming that members pay extra fees only to chat with Ashley Madison employees or robots. In June last year, a group of bloggers have put up ashleymadisonsucks.com, which provides an avenue for rants and complaints about the online dating service.
"Ashley Madison is 99% fake and a fraud. Fake women send you winks or collect messages to get you to use up your credits and then buy some more. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they are fake. There are a few real people as I've met one or two but as soon as they suck you dry of credits or getting you to buy more by contacting them, they go away immediately," said Bob, a guest user at ashleymadisonsucks.com.
'Just a platform'
Ashley Madison has responded to these allegations, which have been haunting them for years.
The online dating service made it clear that it "does not encourage anyone to stray or have an affair" despite its slogan "Life is short, have an affair." Rather, Ashley Madison said it is merely providing individuals a "safe and anonymous way to find partners to have an affair with, and make their experience a positive one."
"Providing a service like ours does not make anyone likely to stray any more than increasing the availability of glassware contributes to alcoholism. No report or study contradicts this finding. On the other hand, putting up barriers and making it difficult to stray has never discouraged infidelity; if anything, it simply makes people want to even more," Ashley Madison said in its website.
Infidelity is defined as an "act of unfaithfulness to one's husband, wife, or lover, whether it be sexual or non-sexual in nature." (Read full definition here) This includes having an online relationship with someone other than your partner.
Ashley Madison has also recognized that its rather unconventional service "isn't going to work for everyone." Still, the online dating site encouraged Internet users to try their services.
"If you follow the guidelines we lay out for you, I guarantee that you will successfully find what you're looking for," it said.
As for the scam allegations, Ashley Madison stressed that all these are "false and totally unsubstantiated," citing positive feedback from some of its members.
"You can't have a service with over 5 million members and make tens of millions of dollars based on a scam," the website read.