Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal | Official Trailer | Netflix

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“Life is short. Have an affair.” With those six words, The Ashley Madison Agency, the online dating service for married people curious about the possibility of adultery, launched a bombshell of a business proposition. The company’s bold invitation angered many and attracted even more, making the business millions of dollars and courting endless media attention. For several years, it seemed like there was no limit to Ashley Madison’s success — and then, not unlike a sordid love affair, it all came crashing down.

Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal chronicles the rise, fall, and rebirth of a website that has had a profound effect on countless couples and families. Featuring interviews with former employees and clients, the documentary series presents an unflinching look at what happens when millions of secrets are exposed at once, told through the eyes of a group of people who experienced it firsthand — and many of them offer some surprising perspective.

“We all know infidelity can be incredibly destructive and hurtful, but at the same time, the fact that Ashley Madison had 37 million members tells us something else we all know — that committing to one person for the rest of your life is really hard,” series director Toby Paton told Netflix. “Rather than berating people who joined Ashley Madison we were much more interested in exploring why they were drawn to the site. What were they looking for? What was going on in their relationships? And, crucially: What was their partner’s side of the story?”

What is Ashley Madison?

Founded in Toronto in 2001 by Darren Morgenstern, Ashley Madison functions much like a dating website. For a fee, people (although, it’s free for women) create a profile and interact with other members in the hopes of forging a connection. What initially separated it from many other similar sites, however, was that the vast majority of the member base were married or in a relationship. According to his brother and former creative director of the company, Morgenstern was inspired to create a platform for adulterers after seeing a statistic that 30% of people on existing dating sites were married. Because the interactions on Ashley Madison were clandestine, the site claimed to keep users safe with extensive security measures.

While the website logged hundreds of thousands of signups during its first few years, things took off after Noel Biderman became the company’s CEO. Biderman brought his childhood friend Evan Back on board as vice president of sales, and the two adopted an aggressive marketing strategy. When the company’s ads were rejected by major networks, Biderman made the rounds on news programs and daytime television, pitching Ashley Madison’s uniquely bold prospect directly to the US — often with his wife in tow. During these interviews, the Bidermans posited that a website wasn’t capable of creating a cheater. Rather, the company was simply meeting an existing need. By 2015, the site boasted some 37 million users and had launched in more than 40 countries. But, that same year, the future of Ashley Madison was threatened by a hacker group calling itself The Impact Team. What happened next would change the course of the site — and many people’s lives — forever.

Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal premieres on Netflix on May 15.

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