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Noel Biderman, the hack list, and free credits: The biggest revelations from Hulu’s ‘The Ashley Madison Affair’

'The Ashley Madison Affair' is a deep dive into adultery and its downfall.

via ABC News YouTube

Hulu is certainly delivering in the realm of true crime and public interest stories as of late, and pop culture connoisseurs know that in 2015, there was no topic more talked about than the leak of user information from the website Ashley Madison, and with good reason.

The Ashley Madison Affair is a deep dive into the use of a particular website, one that helped its users facilitate extramarital affairs with a few clicks of a button. Okay, so maybe the method of action was more complicated than that, but the point of its existence is simple — Ashley Madison provides married people with a place to find people to have an affair with, and despite the logo being a woman making a gesture for “secret” things, certainly didn’t stay that way for long.

From hackers and free credits to paid accounts, if you wanted to be an “affair guarantee” member, The Ashley Madison Affair is opening up about many things that users probably wish stayed secret.

So what is The Ashley Madison Affair all about, and why is it captivating the pop culture realm? Let’s take a look.

What is Ashley Madison?

Founded by Darren J. Morgenstern, Ashley Madison is a dating site and “social networking service” billed as a place where you could find a break in your reality, and that’s putting it nicely. If you want to get to the down-and-dirty of it all, we could start with the site’s tagline.

“Life is short. Have an affair.”

You read that right, and if you’ve not been living under a rock, you’re probably painfully aware of the implications of having an account on Ashley Madison and what went down in 2015, but if not, there’s one important thing to realize before continuing to dive in — people with an account on Ashley Madison knew what they were signing up for. They knew what kind of accounts they were creating and what system had been developed for their “relationship” hopes.

Put in layman’s terms, Ashley Madison is a platform where cheating is at the forefront of everyone’s mind; “stepping out of your marriage” and into a situation with someone on the side — adultery. Oh, and to sweeten the pot, women weren’t charged for using the account — being given a free experience instead. Men were the ones required to pay for the “services offered.”

In addition to offering a platform to cheat, Ashley Madison also guaranteed that “suitors” would meet someone to have an affair with, or they’d get their money back, but there were precise rules that needed to be followed to qualify for said guarantee.

Those very detailed rules read as follows:

  1. Comply at all times with the AshleyMadison.com Terms of Use. By using the AshleyMadison.com website and participating in the Program, you agree to be bound by the AshleyMadison.com Terms of Use.
  2. Pay in full the applicable rate for the “Affair Guarantee” Membership Package, which consists of 1000 credits.
  3. Use your “Affair Guarantee” Membership Package to create a profile with a primary photo (public or private). Your profile and primary photo must be approved by AshleyMadison.com within the first 30 days of purchasing your “Affair Guarantee” Membership Package in order for you to be eligible for the Program. Details on approval of your profile and primary photo are available at FAQ.
  4. Keep your profile visible at all times during the first 3 months of purchasing your “Affair Guarantee” Membership Package.
  5. Send “Qualifying” priority mail messages to at least 18 different AshleyMadison.com members each month. A “Qualifying Mail Message” must be a priority mail message you send to a unique AshleyMadison.com member who has not yet messaged you or a priority mail message response you send to a unique AshleyMadison.com member who has messaged you. A “Qualifying Mail Message” must be a priority mail message sent through the AshleyMadison.com service and does not include any other method of communicating (such as AshleyMadison.com winks or emails sent outside of the AshleyMadison.com system).
  6. Send at least 5 AshleyGifts per month.
  7. Instant message with members for at least 60 minutes per month through the AshleyMadison.com service.
  8. Adhere to all the steps set out in the Affair Guarantee Program.

There is a lot to being a member and even more to feeling dissatisfaction.

In addition to being an adultery-based dating site, you will probably remember that advertisements for Ashley Madison were attention-grabbing, unconventional, and hit on the element of surprise. One promotion even included Hilary Clinton, while others seemingly started as motivational messages before taking quick turns.

Noel Biderman, the former CEO of Ashley Madison, gave the following explanation for why people wanted to have affairs:

Biderman also said that the website didn’t encourage cheating and that people would be unfaithful no matter what. The platform simply served as a place to find people to expedite the process — which, in our minds, doesn’t really make it all that much better, but to each their own, we guess.

It goes without saying that those who signed up for the website were keeping secrets from their loved ones, and when sensitive information was leaked, it became the talk of the entertainment realm.

What happened with Ashley Madison being hacked?

On July 15, 2015, The Impact Team was revealed to be behind a cyber attack on Ashley Madison, claiming the security for the website was lackluster. Demands were made that the site shut down or users’ personal information would be leaked. The first release of public information went live in August, with another following a few days after the first.

More than 30 million users were said to have been affected by the hacking, but not all of them could be detected by their partners at home. Many registered with fake email addresses, names, and information — providing little to no paper trail to trace back to them. Others, however, were caught, and millions of families worldwide were changed forever because of it.

There were some people in the public eye who were caught using Ashley Madison. Sam Rader, Josh Taekman, Florida State Attorney Jeff Ashton, and Jionni LaValle — to name a few, were said to have accounts on the website.

Biderman himself was also caught sending messages on the site, all while married to his wife, but the pair are still said to be together to this day.

After reading all of that, you might wonder why we’re using the term is instead of was. The thing is, and this might be shocking, or it could be something you’ve grown to expect from society at this point, but AshleyMadison.com is still a running website that people use to this day, and we’re as flabbergasted about it as you are.

About the author

Ashley Marie

Ashley Marie is a staff writer, beat leader, Disney fanatic, and Yellowstone expert. When she's not filling her friends in on all the entertainment news they can handle, she's drinking her go-to Starbucks order — a caramel macchiato, thank you — and wishing she was at Disney World or spending time at the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. With a focus on positivity and kindness in journalism, Ashley has been writing for a decade and hopes to keep bringing you articles for decades to come.