Ashley Madison's allegedly bogus 'full delete' option made the company millions

Hacked extra-marital affairs website Ashley Madison’s premium service for deleting customers’ data netted the company millions despite not actually deleting all the information it holds, it has been alleged.

The Guardian is reporting that despite paying $US20 (or £15 in the UK) for the “full delete” service, customers’ details ranging from date-of-birth to physical description were retained. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News has found documents in the recent leak of company data that indicate that Ashley Madison made $US1.7 million (£1.1 million) off the service in 2014.

Business Insider has reached out to parent company Avid Life Media for comment, and will update when it responds.

Earlier this week, an unknown hacker (or group of hackers) called Impact Team dumped a huge trove of confidential data online. This ranges from compromising personal details on more than 30 million customers (including sexual preferences and financial details), to sensitive internal documents detailing shareholders and company structure.

15,000 military and US government email addresses have been found in the dump, opening the owners up to potential blackmail, along with the email address of a Scottish politician. It is worth noting that users did not have to verify the email addresses they signed up with, so many may be fake — former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s email has been found, for example.

The hacker claims to have been motivated by the “full delete” service, alleging when the initial news of the hack broke in July that the site retained customer information even if they paid to have it removed. Reporting for The Guardian, Alex Hern suggests that these allegations were accurate, and that it “seems to have retained the date of birth, city, state, post or zip code, country, gender, ethnicity, weight, height, body type and whether the user smokes or drinks,” as well as other details.

The $US1.7 million (£1.1 million) figure in the leaked document suggests that nearly 90,000 Ashley Madison users paid for this “full delete” service.

Here’s a leaked document describing how the service lets users “pay to eliminate any trace of themselves from the site”:

In a previous statement that did not address the Full Delete allegations, parent company Avid Life Media describes the hack as “an illegal action against the individual members of, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities.”

It adds that “the criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society. We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world. We are continuing to fully cooperate with law enforcement to seek to hold the guilty parties accountable to the strictest measures of the law.”

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