TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - When anonymous hackers divulged customer data from a popular extramarital matchmaking website, many just saw a juicy scandal.
But two University of Toledo graduate students found material ripe for research.
Michael Chohaney and Kimberly Panozzo used the data, retrievable online after hackers swiped it last year from the website Ashley Madison, to map areas of the United States with the most unfaithful husbands.
The result was a first-of-its-kind geographical look at internet-facilitated infidelity, and serves as a warning to the wives of affluent Fairfield County, Connecticut, home to tony Greenwich and Stamford.
That area posted the highest rate of male subscribers who paid the website to engage in extramarital affairs.
Researchers found the Fairfield area led the nation with 6.23 Ashley Madison subscriptions per 1,000 people aged 18 to 79, followed by the metropolitan areas of Boulder, Colorado., Jacksonville, North Carolina, and Manchester, New Hampshire
The metro Toledo area was in the “middle-of-the-pack,” with “nothing unusual going on,” said Mr. Chohaney.
The researchers’ map indicates the Cleveland area and Ohio’s southwest corner have higher subscription rates than the local region.
Metropolitan areas with some of the lowest subscription rates were in poor Appalachian and southern locations, strengthening the conclusion that affluence is linked to this kind of online adultery.
“Income drives this whole market,” Mr. Chohaney said.
Researchers narrowed the millions of leaked Ashley Madison accounts to 702,309 subscriber profiles with usable billing addresses.
They eliminated inactive or duplicate accounts, and focused on men who paid for the website’s services. Women were not charged for sending messages using the site.
The Fairfield County area also topped the list of metro areas in spending rates, doling out $1,127 on the site per 1,000 people.
The Washington metro area came in second at $741 spent per 1,000 people, followed by the Boston area at $715, and the New York City metro area at $711.
The study compared the Ashley Madison-user data to demographic information culled from census reports and other resources to create a geographic profile that showed cheaters to be wealthier, younger, and less religious.
One thing Mr. Chohaney said he can’t explain is the appearance of the Salt Lake City metro area, a heavily Mormon area, among the top 10 metropolitan areas for subscription rates.
“My cynical theory is that it’s the Californians that move in,” he said.
Some academics have shied away from using stolen data, such as the account information from the Ashley Madison hack.
Mr. Chohaney, who at age 27 is months from completing his doctoral degree in spatially integrated social science, said he’s already received negative comments about the research.
He has a simple response. The data is freely available to download, and he and Ms. Panozzo, who recently completed her master’s degree in geography and planning, took care to analyze the information without identifying anyone in the research.
“We are looking to use hacked data as a really unique source of knowledge creation because, otherwise, social science kind of stagnates,” he said.
Mr. Chohaney contends researchers “have a duty” to make new knowledge available.
He noted that the field of geography which, along with anthropology, economics, and sociology constitutes his interdisciplinary studies, is notably adverse to risky research.
Social scientists who study people and their behavior are going to have to follow Mr. Chohaney’s lead, said David Nemeth, a professor in UT’s department of geography and planning who has mentored the doctoral student.
This kind of “big data research” pushes the envelope, said Mr. Nemeth, who called the study “provocative.”
“He’s adventurous, and it takes a pioneer,” Mr. Nemeth said.
Mr. Chohaney said it was his co-author who told him about the Ashley Madison data dump, sparking the idea for their project.
“We both kind of looked at each other with a light bulb over our head and said, ‘They have address information. We could put this on a map,’ ” he said.
They started their work in September, 2015, and the resulting paper was recently published online in the journal Geographical Review.
An Ashley Madison representative could not be reached for comment.
This story has been corrected to show the reporter was Vanessa McCray.
Information from: The Blade, https://www.toledoblade.com/
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