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Millions of dirty secrets were exposed when user information for Ashley Madison, a dating site for married users seeking discreet affairs, leaked in 2015, and a former high-ranking employee of the company told filmmakers that the company had been “gambling with people’s lives” in a just-released docuseries.

Former company employees, journalists who covered the scandal, customers unmasked by the leak and jilted spouses tell the story of the notorious data breach, how it changed the dating site and what the hackers ultimately cost the site’s users in the Netflix chart topper “Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal,” which was released last Wednesday.

Ashley Madison has undergone a “complete rehaul” after the breach to “rebuild trust,” and now boasts 85 million users, with about four million new users signing up each year, spokesperson Paul Keable told Fox News Digital. 

Director Toby Paton wrote in a news release that, rather than “berating” people who joined the site, filmmakers aimed to “explore why they were drawn [to it] … what were they looking for? What was going on in their relationships? And, crucially: What was their partner’s side of the story.”

Started by Darren Morgenstern in 2001, the service launched with the slogan “when monogamy becomes monotony,” which later morphed into the more salacious “Life is short. Have an affair.”


Nearly 40 million people were exposed when Ashley Madison, a dating site marketed to adulterers, had a data breach in 2015. (Netflix)

Former employees said that the company justified its business model with the founder’s view that spouses cheating on another was inevitable; their site was just meeting a need by facilitating it. They found that 30 percent of people on already-existing dating sites were already married, according to the documentary.

“They’d say, ‘Who’s your biggest competitor?’ And I’d say, ‘The Bible,'” former Ashley Madison vice president of sales Evan Back told filmmakers.


Ashley Madison raked in users with salacious advertisements and appearances on daytime television by its CEO. The pictured billboard is in Johannesburg, South Africa. The site boasted 37 million users in 40 countries at the time of the data breach in 2015. Currently, the site has about 85 million users. (Photo by Foto24/Gallo Images)

The company enjoyed explosive growth, garnering attention with racy ads and appearances by CEO Noel Biderman that elicited righteous indignation – and, apparently, users – from TV viewers. Oftentimes, Biderman appeared alongside his wife, and the pair insisted that the service wasn’t capable of “creating” cheaters.

But although the site promised anonymity and security, the company’s data security defenses were not enough to protect the 37 million users across 40 countries it had amassed by 2015. 

Former IT employees detailed how lax the site’s security measures were, while employees who handled billing and customer service detailed how they would brush off concerned spouses asking after suspicious credit card charges.

“It was like gambling with people’s lives,” Back said in retrospect. 


Noel Biderman

Ashley Madison’s CEO Noel Biderman, often alongside his wife, claimed repeatedly that their site couldn’t create cheaters and was just meeting an existing need. (May Tse/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

That year, the company was hacked by a group called “The Impact Team,” which the documentary theorized may have just been one person, or even an employee of the site’s parent company, Avid Life Media. Unless the company shuttered its business within 30 days, the hacker demanded, they would release its users’ data on the “dark web.”

Although the company hired a cybersecurity team, they did not meet the hackers’ demands. Seven days later, the hacker group followed through on the threats, releasing data including information from people who believed they had deleted their accounts entirely – a service that the company charged money for, according to the documentary. A second data dump included users’ credit card details and even nude photos. 

The company offered $500,000 to anyone who would expose the hacker – who has yet to be identified.


Evan Back

“They’d say, ‘Who’s your biggest competitor?’ And I’d say, ‘The Bible,'” former Ashley Madison vice president of sales Evan Back, pictured, says in the docuseries. (Netflix)

Journalists and curious parties began scanning the lists for familiar names – and soon, websites that allowed users to enter email addresses to determine whether they’d ever had an account were created.

Even CEO Biderman’s data wasn’t safe, and his private and business emails became publicly available. The former CEO did not appear for an interview, but he told filmmakers in a written statement that he “remained a committed husband and father.”

But despite exhaustive attempts by law enforcement and cybersecurity experts brought in by the company, the identity of the elusive Impact Team was never discerned, according to the docuseries. 

“Now, we look at [security] as a whole-of-company approach,” Ashley Madison’s Keable said Friday. “Every person’s job is security, every person’s job is discretion.”

Protecting its users is a “Sisyphean task,” Keable said. “We need to push the security boulder up the hill every day.”

“I think there’s a misunderstanding with the idea that [Ashley Madison was in the] wrong, given that we’ve seen since then that multiple companies have had similar types of events. It’s part of the maturation process of the online community world,” he said. 

Among celebrities named in the Ashley Madison breach was Josh Duggar of “19 Kids and Counting,” who was later convicted on child pornography charges.

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” he said in a statement at the time. “While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife. I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.”

“Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi vehemently denied reports that her husband was on the site. 

“I’m lucky if he knows how to even use a computer, yet go on Ashley Madison to cheat on me,” she said at the time. “It’s so stupid, and we honestly think, like, someone is trying to f–k with us, because this isn’t the first story that Jionni’s been cheating on me.”


Sam and Nia Rader, a Christian vlogging couple popular during the 2010s, were also interviewed about how their marriage was affected when the former was listed in the breach.

“I’m not angry at Ashley Madison, definitely not angry at the hackers,” Sam told Tudum. “I was already on a horrible path when Ashley Madison was advertised to me. Of course, it’s frustrating that they didn’t keep my data safe, but I just see it as the Lord exposing me and bringing [me] out of the darkness.”

Sam and Nia Rader

Sam and Nia Rader, popular Christian vloggers in the 2010s, were among couples interviewed for the series. (Netflix)

Ashley Madison has seen an increase in membership since the documentary was released, Keable said. “People who are unaware of us that are struggling with their situation think, ‘Maybe that’s my solution.'”

Ashley Madison did not work with Netflix on the documentary, but Keable pointed out they were an integral part of Hulu’s mini-series “The Ashley Madison Affair.”

“[Netflix] did an excellent job of putting together a story, but we weren’t interested in rehashing what is a very old, nine-year-old story … with really no new information … without talking about where we’ve come since then and what is happening beyond that,” Keable said. “Hulu was interested in doing the whole story – what happened in 2015, what happened afterward and where [the company] is now.”

“Myself, my colleagues, we’re pretty proud of the fact that despite other people’s beliefs, we’re standing loud and proud today and delivering on people’s needs,” he said. “It’s a pretty cool story, but we can’t wait for the next chapter.”

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