In 2011, Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman was incredibly optimistic about the future of his infidelity dating site. "Next to Facebook, we're probably going to be the fastest-growing social network on the planet," he told Bloomberg BusinessWeek for a feature story on the company called "Cheating, Inc." At the time, Ashley Madison had 8.5 million members, 1.3 million of whom were actually paying for the service (you have to buy "credits" to send messages on the site, though it's free to respond). Bloomberg reported that the company was expecting to make $60 million in revenue that year, $20 million of it profit.
After this week's leak, which includes credit card transactions dating back to 2008, we've gotten a more detailed look at the site's user base and financials. Our analysis suggests Ashley Madison's growth is not anything like Facebook's. In analyzing credit card transactions over the last 8 years to see which states have the highest concentration of Ashley Madison subscribers, we found 1.3 million unique paying users in the United States, which is the company's largest market by far. A BBC article this year about Ashley Madison's desire to go public said the company's revenue was way up, though, with $150 million in revenue in 2014.
Using the credit cards records exposed in the breach, we crunched the numbers to see what they reveal about how much people were actually paying Ashley Madison. We found that, over the last 8 years, it appears that Ashley Madison users have paid $578,071,442, or over half a billion dollars, for the possibility of having an extramarital affair. We not only broke the credit card payments down by country, but used country population size to do a per capita calculation to determine which country's citizens are most willing to pay for the opportunity to cheat.
Here's the breakdown in spending per country:
And here's the per capita breakdown, showing which country's citizens are most willing to seek out infidelity via Ashley Madison:
U.S. and Canada remain on top, but people in Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland and Taiwan also spend relatively more on Ashley Madison than people in other countries.
This was a huge exercise in data crunching. Included in the leak were over 2,000 spreadsheets with hundreds of credit card transactions for each day dating back to March 21, 2008. The transactions are not all in U.S. dollars so we (or rather Fusion's Ross Goodwin) wrote a Python script that converted the currency based on the country it was paid from into USD.
We used current currency conversion rates so there may be some discrepancies in the data based on that, but the year-by-year findings tracked fairly closely with Avid Life Media Powerpoint prepared for management that showed revenue for 2009 through 2013:
This gives us an idea of the numbers behind infidelity: over a million people looking for a discreet relationship were willing to lay down half a billion dollars to make it happen. Whether they got the affairs they were looking for is not something we can know. What we do know is that their money did not buy them the discretion they paid for.