Ashley Madison CEO wants to discuss ‘societal benefits’ of site with authorities

TODAY talks to founder, Noel Biderman founder Noel Biderman talks to TODAY by video link from Hong Kong, as his controversial extra-marital dating website launches in Taiwan. On November 8, 2013 the Media Development...
Published: 4:03 AM, November 25, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, November 26, 2013

SINGAPORE — The founder of Ashley Madison, the controversial dating website for married people which has been blocked in Singapore, said yesterday that he wants to engage the authorities to discuss possible benefits of the service he is offering in a bid to get the ban overturned.

Speaking to TODAY via a video call from Hong Kong, Chief Executive Noel Biderman appeared to take a softer stance than he did earlier this month, when he said his firm was consulting with external legal advisers on possible ways to challenge the ban by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

“We don’t think this is something that needs to be litigated,” he said. “Ultimately, what we want to do is approach it from a lobbying perspective — we want to speak to people and explain to them the (service’s) societal benefits. I don’t think you can do that effectively in a court of law.”

The Canadian also revealed that his firm is working with an organisation to come to “a resolution” with the MDA. But he declined to name the organisation so as not to “jeopardise” the efforts at “diplomacy”.

Mr Biderman added that his company wants to get input from professors of “world-renowned schools” who have done research on infidelity and divorce, which he hopes is able to show why the site would be of value here.

“I think we are willing to sit down and talk about the legal framework, the divorce rates, how a service like this might actually reduce divorce (rates) in society. There are all kinds of factual conversation I would think anyone would want to read (about),” he added.

Earlier this month, Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, told Parliament it was not possible to block every website that promotes “non-monogamous relationships and extramarital affairs”.

But the website stood out because “it aggressively encourages and facilitates extramarital affairs and has declared it will specifically target Singaporeans”, he added.

The MDA blocks access to 100 websites, most of which are pornographic. A Facebook petition page, Block Ashley Madison — Singapore, has garnered more than 27,000 likes since it was created last month.

Reiterating his earlier point that infidelity is not a criminal act here, Mr Biderman called the prohibition of his website “anti-competitive” and said Singapore’s ban was “unique”.

Noting that his firm is now in 34 countries, he cited Hong Kong as its “fastest-growing” market since its expansion into Asia this year. Its Taiwan site was launched yesterday.

“In Hong Kong, there was an organisation that spoke out against us, but it had no effect on (our ability) to operate a very successful business,” he said.