It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything in this space. My apologies to my loyal readers (Hi Mom!). Life got crazy. I’ve been thinking about writing another post – either about hockey or Ingress – but I’m fascinated right now with Ashley Madison.
So here goes.
Ashley Madison is an online dating service for married people. “Life is short. Have an affair.”
I’ve known about the service for a long time, because they advertise on Howard Stern constantly. Their commercials are hilarious, but they always make you feel a little icky. Bloomberg Businessweek did a profile of them in 2011 and it detailed all sorts of sketchy behavior by their leadership.
So when hackers announced that they had infiltrated Ashley Madison’s website and were planning to release, well, everything, I was intrigued. Apparently they tried to convinced the site to shut down, and after they didn’t comply, BOOM, they dumped 9GB of files onto the dark web.
I spent 6 hours on Sunday downloading the files and searching for people I might know. It felt a little dirty but I couldn’t stop myself.
There are services that have popped up online where anyone can search the database by email address, but some seem sketchy and since most people used burner email addresses anyway, it’s hard to find anything there.
For the real dirt, you have to download the 9GB of files and search the credit card transactions, which contain full names and addresses. Most people don’t know how to do this; it requires knowledge of torrents, grep, and for the best stuff, MySql. Half the fun for me was trying to learn some of this stuff.
It’s only a matter of time before someone creates a publicly searchable database of everything, and then it’s only a matter of time before they get sued. And on and on.
It will get worse before it gets better, because the hackers claim they have chat histories and will release that in a future dump. Signing up for the site is one thing, paying $49.99 is another, setting up a profile that tells the world you’re into blindfolds and Asians is yet another…but actual chat history is insanely damaging.
There were 5,000 records in my zip code alone. That’s a lot of people looking for something they aren’t getting in their marriage. Correction: that’s a lot of MEN looking for something they aren’t getting in their marriage. It is almost entirely men. Not sure who they were talking to, or thought they were talking to, but chances are it wasn’t a real woman looking for a discreet affair.
Not really a surprise I suppose, but it does expose the site as a massive scam.
So should this information be out on the Internet for anyone to see? That’s the interesting question.
This isn’t WikiLeaks exposing government policies that have been hidden in secret, and that many Americans found to be shocking invasions of privacy and abuses of power. And even if you disagreed with the tactics, there were legitimate arguments about safety and security and the release spurred an healthy debate we could and should be having in this country.
The Ashley Madison data is information about people’s private lives, with the potential to destroy marriages. Hundreds of thousands of marriages, maybe millions. What’s interesting is that because 95%+ of the profiles were males, it’s highly unlikely that any actual cheating occurred. But try explaining that little nuance to your spouse, especially after all the neighbors know you’re into anal beads.
If it’s politician or preacher who lectures society about infidelity, or worse, about how gay marriage will destroy the very institution itself…I’m 100% OK exposing that hypocrite who chose to thrust himself into the public debate. Bravo. Go crawl back into your hole.
But for the average frustrated American male who had a moment of weakness and wanted a little escape online…well, what business is that of mine? What good comes of it? What healthy debates does it spur?
This information should have been released to reputable news organizations with the discretion to find the hypocrites and decide who the public figures are and what is newsworthy. Releasing it to the world was an example of people doing things because they can, not because they should.
And yet… I cannot look away.