What is the true story behind Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal? Netflix dating documentary explored

The dating website that ruined millions of lives (Image via Netflix)
The dating website that ruined millions of lives (Image via Netflix)

With Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal, Netflix is gearing up to add another gripping documentary series to its roster. Set to release on May 15, 2024, the docuseries will tell the story of a dating website that became the target of a cyber attack, putting the privacy of its users in danger.

As per Netflix, the synopsis for the documentary reads:

"When a dating site for people seeking adulterous affairs is hacked, millions of users' intimate data is exposed, wrecking marriages and destroying lives."

The three-part series will feature interviews with former employees and clients who fell victim to the infamous 2015 data leak that shattered the lives of many. With its trailer releasing on May 1, the documentary has piqued the intrigue of viewers.


The real story about Ashley Madison that inspired the Netflix documentary, details explored

A screenshot of the website's home page (via ashleymadison.com)
A screenshot of the website's home page (via ashleymadison.com)

With the slogan "Life is short. Have an affair," The Ashley Madison Agency was launched in 2002 by founder Darren J. Morgenstern. Based in Canada, the dating website is marketed towards married or committed people seeking to engage in extra-marital affairs outside of their relationships.

According to his brother, Morgenstern got the inspiration to create the platform after coming across a statistic that 30% of people on dating sites were married in real life, as reported by Netflix. Despite earning the ire of the public due to its premise, the site boasted over 37 million users across 40 countries in 2015, reaching 60 million in 2019.

While it was heavily criticized for encouraging adultery and ruining marriages, the official website reads:

"As a place free of judgement, Ashley Madison revolves around the idea that consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in private."
A screenshot of the website (via ashleymadison.com)
A screenshot of the website (via ashleymadison.com)

In July 2015, Krebs on Security reported that the dating website server had been breached with the company's "user databases, financial records and other proprietary information" being leaked. The hacking was admitted to have been done by a group called The Impact Team, who demanded the website be shut down permanently.

According to Krebs, the hackers posted a manifesto revealing that the reason behind their attack was to expose Ashley Madison's lies. They said that the usage history, personal information and purchase details of its members were not removed even after deleting their profiles, as the website had promised.

A snippet of the hackers' manifesto (via KrebsonSecurity)
A snippet of the hackers' manifesto (via KrebsonSecurity)

Along with Ashley Madison, the hackers demanded that Avid Life Media (the firm that owns the site) permanently shut down another dating website called 'Established Men' as well. After ALM refused to give in to their demands, The Impact Team made public all the stolen data, including the identities and personal information of the users.

Some of the notable people whose identities were exposed due to the leak were 19 Kids and Counting star Josh Duggar, Christian YouTuber Sam Rader, Real Housewives of New York star Kristen Taekman's husband Josh Taekman and Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman, among millions of others.

A screenshot of the website (via ashleymadison.com)
A screenshot of the website (via ashleymadison.com)

Along with a $576 million class-action lawsuit against the company, the aftermath of the data leak also allegedly resulted in a few suicides.

Also read: Which celebrities were exposed following Ashley Madison hack? Complete list explored


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Director by Toby Paton, the three-part documentary series will air on Netflix on May 15, 2024. Meanwhile, a docuseries regarding the same was previously created and aired by Hulu in partnership with ABC called The Ashley Madison Affair in 2023.

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Edited by Bhargav
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