Ashley Madison, the Canadian-based website for married people looking for an affair, has been expanding aggressively into Asia over the past year.
There have been some successes — such as the company’s launch in Japan, which saw half a million people sign up in the space of three months — and some stumbles, such as being banned in Singapore.
But the company’s latest move into South Korea could prove its riskiest, as adultery is punishable by up to two years in prison in the country.
Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman doesn’t seem worried about that, despite having been advised not to travel to South Korea for the site’s launch.
"The point is that people are going to have affairs no matter what avenues are open or closed to them. So why not provide them with a discreet way to do it?” he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
Ashley Madison’s list of the Canadian cities with the most cheaters (story continues below):
Few people are actually jailed for adultery in South Korea. Most receive suspended sentences, and prosecutors only file charges if a spouse complains.
Forty-two people were imprisoned for adultery in 2008, down from 216 in 2004, according to Agence France-Presse.
Despite the laws, adultery is commonplace in South Korea. A 2008 online survey found 79 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women admit to cheating on their spouse.
Biderman sees a “massive pent-up demand” for his website’s services in Asian markets. The site launched in Hong Kong late last year, and already has the highest per-capita rate of membership of any of the 35 countries where it operates.
Not every Asian market has been receptive to the controversial social media site. Ashley Madison was banned from operating in Singapore late last year and access to its website has been blocked to residents. The site has also been blocked in Malaysia, where Biderman's lobbying efforts have failed to overturn the ban.
The same fate could potentially await the company in South Korea. For now, authorities say the site isn’t doing anything illegal technically, but they will continue to monitor activities on it.
Agence France-Presse notes that the country’s authorities deleted 23,000 web pages last year and blocked access to another 63,000 last year alone.
Ashley Madison claims 25 million subscribers around the world.