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Cybersecurity

Flirting with the truth: Just 2,600 Hong Kong men paid to join Ashley Madison as hack reveals cheating site exaggerated numbers

Post analysis of leaked documents shows Hong Kong figure was far below initial claims, but the members spent HK$3m on the cheating website

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2015, 7:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2015, 10:43am

When it launched here in 2013, online dating website Ashley Madison said it had hundreds of thousands of locals flocking to its site, ready to flirt with an affair.

In reality, analysis by the South China Morning Post showed about 2,600 men paid a total of more than HK$3 million to chat up women, some of whom were reportedly fake profiles to lure customers.

The figures were gleaned from information on Ashley Madison leaked by hackers last month.

READ MORE: What was in the Ashley Madison hack? Data reveals names, addresses and sexual preferences of 37 million users

Names, emails and billing addresses for Hong Kong-based men who paid to try their luck on the now-deactivated adultery website were included in the leak.

Details for any women who signed up are harder to find, as they were not required to pay to participate in the website.

In 2013 Ashley Madison said it had clocked up 12,000 new members from Hong Kong within just a few days of its launch here, and already had 320,000 unique hits from within the city.

But analysis of hacked data revealed the service only had about 2,600 paying members, all male, in Hong Kong.

The vast majority of paid transactions took place between 2013 and June this year.

In addition, analysis of leaked Ashley Madison emails by online news site Gizmodo showed there had been discussions among the site's management about creating fake female profiles in Hong Kong as they had already done in other cities.

On July 4, 2013, Nora Abtan, director of internal operations at Avid Life Media - the social entertainment company that launched Ashley Madison - emailed company CEO Noel Biderman and other managers about the status of a project to create "angels", or fake profiles, on their international sites.

Abtan wrote: "Hong Kong (August 1st): Keith, please put together a plan for this as well and share with us."

According to Gizmodo, only about 0.3 per cent of female accounts worldwide were used on a regular basis.

Despite the small number of paying Hongkongers, members in the city were enthusiastic, collectively spending more than HK$3 million on the site in about two years

Some individual members spent tens of thousands of dollars on services, sometimes in single payments of up to HK$30,000. The purpose of these payments is unclear.

On average, customers paid about HK$1,000 over the course of their time on the site.

When Ashley Madison was active, users could purchase credits - about 100 for HK$360 - which could then be spent on messages and online gifts.

The website also charged US$20 to remove a person's profile and information from its system.

Further analysis by the Post revealed the addresses in Hong Kong where Ashley Madison members were most likely to live.

Topping the list with more than 50 members was Wan Chai, closely followed by Tsuen Wan and Sha Tin. But if you're living in Yau Ma Tei and worried that your partner cheated on you through the site, rest easy - there was only one Ashley Madison member in your neighbourhood.

A spokesman for Ashley Madison could not be reached for comment.

Additional reporting by Cedric Sam