Ashley Madison and the Business of Affairs

Ashley Madison, an online “dating” site that encourages married individuals to conduct affairs through the discreet services of the company, has recently come under the scrutiny of the Media Development Authority (MDA) in Singapore. The MDA issued a statement that it would not allow the website to operate in Singapore as the business is “in flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality,” the state regulator indicated.

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Are the government and Singaporeans who support the ban being “prudish”, as hinted at by a South China Morning Post article?

The first thing is to acknowledge the business for what it facilitates. Noel Biderman, CEO of AshleyMadison.com, in a TEDxWaterloo talk told his audience unabashedly that his aim in starting this business targeting married individuals was to fill a gap in the “market” where unhappily married partners can find satisfaction. The economic incentive, he says, is clear – and it is indeed. It is clear that he stands to gain as an entrepreneur within societies who embrace a deterioration of familial relationship by giving people an additional route by which they can pursue their idea of satisfaction and as a result disregard commitments they have previously made.One must bear in mind that the commitment involved here is not a mere cancellation of a pre-arranged meeting; it involves the emotional well-being, the dignity, of another (who could be you. Or a best friend. Or your parent.).

In other words, a breach of trust between two people is encouraged. Never mind that Biderman couches his justification of his business with research spiel. In this talk he doles out names of major US universities engaged in studies with Ashley Madison, as though the core aim of his business were research-driven. The TED talk is peppered with data concerning rates and statistics of married clients at Ashley Madison in a presentation aimed at promoting anthropological research. For perceptive ones who intend to analyze the logic in his argument, the talk is a farce which involves the use of academia as a smoke-screen. Even if the company were mainly motivated by research, of which there is little chance, as admitted by Biderman, an institution must recognize its ethical responsibility to the society-at-large when its business model contributes to the corrosion of values, including a lack of respect for the dignity of a human person through infidelity.

I was greatly disappointed to read a poorly-written article on the Today website on this issue. In addition to the fact that the argument contains a number of contradicting points which leads the reader to question the stance of the author in this debate, it also says, “The website would not lead to more marriages breaking down or more infidelity; it only gives such people another tool to do such things.” While we should not mistake the means (i.e. tools) for the ends, greater access to these tools which aim to normalize certain behavior equates to the promotion of specific outcomes (i.e. infidelity).