Getting out of that unwanted meeting or dinner with your in-laws could be just a click away. Business is booming for one firm in Bremen that delivers made-to-order alibis.
Want to get out of that awkward family function? Meet up with an old flame without making your partner jealous? Or hide your unemployment from some nosy friends? One German company can make all your uncomfortable social situations disappear - for a price.
"The idea came to me quite spontaneously one Saturday night," Stefan Eiben, founder of the 'Alibi Agentur', told DW. "Two buddies of mine had to cancel plans because their girlfriends wanted them at home, and I thought, there has to be a smoother solution to living the life you want."
Eiben, it seems, was not the only one – sixteen years on, business is going so well he's just opened a new branch in Spain, and has hundreds of freelancers and partner businesses all over the world ready to send a text to get a client out of a meeting, send a postcard from an imaginary trip to New York, or pretend to be your girlfriend for a day so your grandmother will stop asking just when you're going to settle down. Copycat firms are not unheard of.
Speaking from his office in Spain, Eiben said his business has taken on all sorts of "made to measure" tasks he never could have imagined. "We helped one man whose business partners began deserting him after he was diagnosed with cancer. We provided him with alibis for all of his longer stints in the hospital," he explained proudly.
Another example Eiben was keen to share was the time "a young man who still lived with his very conservative parents wasn't ready to tell them he was gay. He used our service to have a girl call him every now and then and come pick him up a few times."
Morally dubious? 'Absolutely not'
When asked if he felt his work was morally problematic, the entrepreneur laughed. "Absolutely not," he replied.
"It's really not what you think, or even what I thought it would be! It's not all about men who want to have affairs. Indeed, half our clients are women! And people who really want to sleep around go out to a club or use an app, with our services it's usually about something much more serious than sex."
Eiben freely admits, though, that some of their services may be unpalatable in certain aspects, but insisted that "most people who use our services to deceive a partner are already thinking about or in the process of getting divorced, and want to go meet someone new for a coffee without having a soon-to-be ex-partner breathing down their neck."
Data protection paramount
The Ashley Madison data leak exposed the credit card numbers of millions of users seeking to have an extramartial affair
Of course, the field of ethics is mired in a complex web of a person's beliefs, their intentions, and the consequences to the person being deceived, whether they know them or not. For who can forget the fallout when, last autumn, millions of would-be cheaters were exposed when the affairs-only dating website Ashley Madison was hacked? At least three suicides, many hate crime reports, and who knows how much human anguish was caused because of the data breach, or, some may argue, because the website facilitated bad behavior in the first place.
But Alibi Agentur eschews such a comparison, first of all, because of aforementioned differences in services offered, but also because of the way customer privacy is handled. "We take only the most limited data necessary from a customer," Eiben explained, "and the freelancers or businesses who actually carry out their wishes may not even know their names, certainly don't know their addresses or any intimate details. Once a service is carried out, their details are deleted."
Indeed, not only do enough Germans seem to appreciate Eiben's chosen livelihood that they have kept him in business all these years, but, in fact, even in Spain most of the company's clients are German.
Discretion. Made in Germany.