Ashley Madison, the dating app that helps people cheat, is more popular than ever. Here's why.

Ashley Madison is a dating website that can never escape its seedy reputation.

With a tagline like "Life is short. Have an affair," it comes as no surprise that since its inception in 2001, the dating website for married people seeking affairs has been marked by controversy. 

And no bigger controversy has hit the infidelity site like the 2015 hacking saga, a scandal reexamined in Hulu's new three-part docuseries The Ashley Madison Affair which is available to watch on Disney+ in Australia. 

The documentary features interviews with some of Ashley Madison's subscribers who were caught up in the data leak. In 2015, hackers released the names, addresses, messages, and even nude photos of an estimated 32 million users. 

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Video via ABC News. 

The hackers went by the alias the 'Impact Team' who contacted parent company, Avid Life Media, and threatened to expose the users' identities if Ashley Madison did not shut down. This didn't happen prompting all the data to be leaked, along with thousands of emails from Ashley Madison CEO, Noel Biderman. 


This saga led to weeks of naming and shaming, as a number of politicians, public officials, and law enforcement officers were exposed in the data breach. The saga became an uncomfortable lesson in schadenfreude, as people took immense pleasure from alleged cheaters being publicly humiliated on the world stage. 

The documentary shows the other side of the scandal, as ex-users share their perspective on what happened, why they joined Ashley Madison, and how the company betrayed their right to privacy. 

Ashley Madison claimed to users that the service would be “anonymous”, “100 per cent discreet”, and offered a payment option to have subscribers' information wiped from their system. 

It was reported in 2015 that at least two people committed suicide in response to the data leak. 

In December 2016, a Class Action Lawsuit was filed against Ashley Madison by 18 plaintiffs caught in the controversy. They won the case and were awarded a $11.2 million settlement, which had to be split between the 2,500 victims they represented, along with their lawyers. 

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Since the data leak happened eight years ago, some might expect that the company has since folded, or at the very least has dwindled in the number of people wanting to sign up to a website that was once hacked. 


This is not the case. In fact, the opposite has happened. Ashley Madison is bigger than ever. 

At the time of the data breach, Ashley Madison claimed to have an international membership of 37.6 million. Flash forward to 2023, executives report to have 75 million global members.

The website has seen a steady increase year on year with the hacking scandal having virtually no effect on business. This is particularly noteworthy as amid the hacking revelations was the claim that many of the women listed on Ashley Madison were actually bots. 

In leaked emails, company figures revealed that they created 22,000 fembots in 2013. In 2017, the site verified in a commissioned report that there were no bots in the system anymore. 

So why despite all this drama, do people increasingly sign up to cheat on their husbands and wives?

The answer could have something to do with changing attitudes towards monogamy. 

While cheating as a concept hasn't become something that's acceptable to most people, alternatives to monogamy have steadily risen in popularity. 

From open relationships, and polyamory to ethical non-monogamy, these relationship structures were once marginalised, but are now commonplace, especially in the dating app world. It's standard when scrolling dating apps to see people casually list their relationship preference as 'open', 'poly', or 'ENM'. 

People's motivations for cheating are also evolving over time. For years, it was assumed that men cheated because they were biologically opposed to monogamy while women cheated for an emotional connection they were missing.


However, recent studies have disputed these outdated ideas. 

In a 2018 book Untrue, Wednesday Martin interviewed sociologists, sex researchers and anthropologists about female infidelity. She found that women are just as motivated by sex as they are an emotional connection. 

“The new research is correcting false notions that women have lesser libidos, that women are more naturally monogamous and that it’s easier for women to partner for life,” Martin said. 

“Women don’t like sex less [than men] — but they do get  bored of sexual sameness.”

A 2020 book Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity by sociologist Alicia Walker interviewed Ashley Madison members. She found that while 76 per cent of the men in this sample report were in a sexless marriage, they were still at their happiest when they were with their wife, with 96 per cent of them not interested in leaving their marriage. 

Love them or (more likely) hate them, but Ashley Madison will continue to thrive as long as partners continue to cheat – in whichever form that may come in. 

The Ashley Madison Affair can be streamed on Disney+

Feature image: Ashley Madison.