Ashley Madison Draws Complaints Over Profile Deletion Fee

Hookup site says it covers administrative costs

Ashley Madison has aroused yet another controversy. The online hookup site, which enables married and partnered men and women to connect on the sly for illicit rendezvous, has apparently made it difficult for departing members to cover their tracks without paying.

As pointed out in a recent Ars Technica piece, some members have misgivings about Ashley's purportedly tricky fee structure. It works as follows: People can create guest accounts for photo viewing and "winking" capabilities and gain full access after buying credits. Leaving the site is trickier. While departing users can easily deactivate and hide their profiles from view, a full deletion of files and messages costs $19.

Defending the fee, Ashley's CEO Noel Biderman explained to Ars Technica that complete file deletion is one of the site's unique options. Facebook, for instance, will delete a user's profile and photos, yet all email messages sent from that account will still be viewable on the receiving end.

For that little fee, Ashley takes things a step further by removing a user's emails from the inboxes of all recipients. The CEO was quick to point out that full deletion adds to the site's administrative costs. 

Biderman also stressed that Ashley's free deactivation feature is just as effective as other social networks' full deletion options. Given the fickle nature of the hookup site's community, where "almost 30 percent of the people that delete their accounts come back and ask [to be reactivated]," he further implied that basic deactivation is usually the best option.

Still, there are many users—perhaps fearing future repercussions or possible blackmail—who want all traces of their membership removed from Ashley's system. According to Biderman, roughly 16,000 of the site's 29 million users each month are willing to pay for that option.

Since its launch in 2001, Ashley Madison has been the subject of numerous controversies. Earlier this year, the site drew criticism for its use of Hillary Clinton in a questionable billboard.