Researchers Analyzed Hacked Ashley Madison Data to Profile the Characteristics of Site Users

December 22, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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They found some interesting trends among Ashley Madison users — a notorious website that helps married people cheat on their spouses.

Ashley Madison, a Canada-based matchmaking service that helps married people cheat on their spouses, gained global attention in 2015 after hackers stole its customer data and exposed the disloyal partners to the world.

Using this stolen data of over 9 million individual transactions, a team of researchers analyzed the characteristics of those who paid to use the infidelity matchmaking site. Since women weren’t required to pay for messaging services, the study sample only included male users.

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According to the new study, which has been published online in the journal Geographical Review, the convenience and promised secrecy of the Ashley Madison website likely compelled a high number of “latent cheaters” to act on their previously inhibited sexual impulses.

The study analysis found that a user’s income was the leading determinant for Internet-facilitated infidelity, suggesting that the matchmaking service behaves as a luxury good.

"Several characteristics related to infidelity at the individual-level were also significant," co-author Michael Chohaney said in a press statement.

"For example, religiosity negatively correlated with Ashley Madison subscription and spending rates, decreasing about 18 percent and 13 percent for every additional religious congregation per 1000 people," added co-author Kimberly Panozzo.

In the study discussion, the authors conclude that religion “may serve as a protective social or spiritual force dissuading individuals from using Ashley Madison.”

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The researchers also found that political stance appeared to have no effect, and that younger married couples were more likely to cheat than older ones. They suspect that this is because older couples have more experience dealing with relationship turmoil, while younger couples may be more susceptible to cheat due to inexperience with relationship stress.

In general, it’s estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of married men and 10 to 15 percent of married women engage in sex outside of their marriages. Analyzing less conventional datasets enables researchers to gain a better understanding of these populations, who would be less likely to offer accurate self-reported data.  

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