How LGBTQ+ people’s lives were put at risk by the shocking 2015 Ashley Madison affair site hack

Ashley Madison Netflix promo image

A Netflix documentary has shone fresh light on the 2015 Ashley Madison data breach, which exposed users of the controversial “life is short, have an affair” dating site – including members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ashley Madison was launched in 2002 and marketed to people who are married, but who want to have an affair. It has been widely condemned by religious figures for encouraging “adultery” – in fact, in 2011, a “family values” pastor named Ed Young “squared off” against Noel Biderman, then CEO of

Noel Biderman was named CEO of Ashely Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media, in 2007. During his tenure he encouraged publicity of any kind, good or bad, often baiting critics with controversial statements.

However, his tenure came to an end shortly after the infamous hack in July 2015. Someone (or something) called “The Impact Team” announced they had stolen a substantial amount of personal information about Ashley Madison’s user base and threatened to release it unless the owners of the site shut it down.

Avid Life Media didn’t cave to the demand, and so the personal info of over 2500 members was released online on the dark web: a lawless sub-level of the internet that cannot be accessed through normal browsers. The data included names, credit-card data, addresses and even sexual preferences.

One of the people whose infidelities were brought to light by the breach was none other than Noel Biderman himself, who stepped down from his position as CEO just eight days after the revelations. He now works as the CEO of Toronto-based software company Avenue Insights.

You may like to watch

The breach also contained information about users who had paid a fee to Ashley Madison to make sure that their profile information was permanently deleted. Disgraced reality TV star Josh Duggar, Real Housewives Of New York star Kristen Taekman’s husband and politician Eliot Spitzer were all caught up in the scandal.

The leak was devastating to many couples, who found out that their partners were using an infidelity website and split as a result. However, it was also potentially life-threatening to LGBTQ+ users of Ashley Madison.

A still from the documentary (Netflix)

In August 2015, the Independent reported that “gay and bisexual users of the Ashley Madison infidelity website have been left in fear for their lives” in countries where homosexuality carries the death penalty.

Users of Ashley Madison’s “Down Low” site, which caters for “married men seeking other men for casual, no-strings fun” were among the victims of the hack.

At the time, a gay Saudi national posted a message on Reddit saying he was sure he would be stoned to death when the data was published. “I was single, but used it because I am gay; gay sex is punishable by death in my home country so I wanted to keep my hook-ups extremely discreet.”

Ashley Madison documentary on Netflix

Nia Rader (Netflix)

The hit Netflix documentary, which is titled Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal delves into the missteps and controversy generated by the company, as well as the infamous data breach.

Christian influencer Sam Rader is featured in the documentary, along with his wife Nia. Sam’s details were exposed in the leak. In the documentary, the couple explain how it affected them and how they managed to stay together. They recently told a Perth radio station that they worked hard to save their marriage.

Something else that was highlighted in the documentary was the fact that the site is still going strong, despite the data breach scandal and its potentially deadly impact on LGBTQ+ users. In 2020 it reportedly had more than 70 million users, nearly double the number it had in 2015.

Netflix members can watch Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal here.

Please login or register to comment on this story.