China’s huge and growing population of netizens is an alluring market for foreign websites. Now the notorious AshleyMadison.com, a U.S. website connecting married people seeking extramarital affairs, is making a push for China.
Aside from an active Internet population, China is also apparently home to plenty of cheaters. According to a story by Agence France-Presse, Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman used provincial divorce rates as market research before launching a China initiative. “It is a reality of life; we are an unfaithful society,” Biderman said in the report. He began his Asian campaign in Hong Kong, the self-administrating metropolis in southern China that has seen a steep increase in divorce rates. Government data found that 30 of every 100 married couples got divorced in 2011, which is double the rate it was just 10 years prior.
“That to us indicates massive appetite for this specifc product,” Biderman told AFP of his “married dating service.” According to Biderman, Ashley Madison got 320,000 hits in Hong Kong without putting any money into marketing. “[Hong Kong is] in transition when it comes to relationships and marriage, and that can lead to an interesting environment,” Biderman added. “When we put ourselves into that mix, we can do extremely well.”
One of the site's first users in Hong Kong, a woman who goes by the username “mamama222,” said she signed up because she is looking for something her spouse cannot offer her. “I’m looking for various men to fulfill what my husband can’t,” she wrote on her profile, according to the report.
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While Ashley Madison is courting Hong Kong’s cheaters, it already has its critics.
Since its launch last Friday, the site, with its tag line “Life is short. Have an affair,” is getting hostile attention from groups that say it's undermining family values. “We must do everything we can to uphold the values of the stability of marriage and family,” the Rev. Lawrence Lee of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese told AFP. “This is disrupting marriage and family, what good can it come to?”
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Family Planning Association also chimed in on the issue, saying, “Infidelity in any form of clandestine extramarital affair without the partner’s knowledge or consent may hurt the marital relationship and ultimately undermine family integrity.”
Despite criticism, Biderman hopes Hong Kong is just the first piece of the China market. Ashley Madison saw more than 640,000 people in China trying to access the site before it was available, in what Biderman described as “pent-up demand.” “If there were 10 times more people trying to log in from [mainland] China as there were last year because of the Hong Kong launch and it starts to spread virally that way, that could be the impetus for me to take the plunge.”