A few weeks ago, hackers claimed to have stolen a wealth of data from the website Ashley Madison, a site that purports to enable people to have extra-marital affairs. They claimed this would reveal real-life details of millions of Ashley Madison users and threatened to release this data if Ashley Madison didn’t close shop. They then released it this week. Several prominent people have been outed as well as several not-so-prominent people and that’s just in the first few days.
One of the more interesting things to come out of this is a look at how Ashley Madison actually functions. There have been allegations for years that Ashley Madison was overpromising, to say the least. There were allegations that the gender ratio was massively skewed and that thousands of fake profiles were on the site to separate men from their money (you have to pay for interactions through the site). The release of the data seems to confirm some of these allegations, which would make Ashley Madison sleazy even by the standards of … uh … sites that enable adultery.
So how much adultery are we talking about here? Ashley Madison claims to have 37 million members, but most estimates I’ve seen indicate, at most, two million active users. Furthermore, a lot of them are just playing around and not actually having affairs. Dan Savage:
There are lots of “fakes and flakes” on hookup sites and apps. Talk to anyone who has actually looked for sex partners online and they’ll bitch about about the flakes and fakes who wasted their time. They’ll bitch about all the people—scores of them, some of them dogs—who exchanged text messages with them, swapped sexy photos with them, and shared their fantasies with them and then disappeared on them—went silent, ghosted them, blocked their numbers—when it was time to meet up and fuck. Sometimes they disappeared on them after making concrete plans to meet up and fuck. So finding spouse’s name on Ashely Madison—if you decide to search for it—doesn’t mean your spouse ever intended to cheat on you.
Of course, to a lot of people, especially women, the difference between a spouse who planned to cheat and one who actually did is academic. I have some sympathy for people who feel trapped in loveless or sexless marriages and want some intimacy. If people want to have open marriages or whatever, that’s their lookout (although the key word there is “open”, not deceptive). But in the end, the Ashley Madison users were people looking to have a cheap affair. Maggie, from my first link:
One of my serious university boyfriends (he was 28 when I was 19) once told me, “Maggie, nobody can take advantage of you unless you have larceny in your heart.” It took me a while to understand what he meant, which is this: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. Ashley Madison holds out the promise of something for nothing: Extracurricular sex without monetary cost, commitment or risk. But as with all such offers, it’s a lie: Pussy costs, and free pussy is the most expensive kind. And Noel Biderman, AKA “Ashley Madison”, has figured out a way to tack on a hefty surcharge.
Exactly. Ashley Madison makes money not just off of deception and infidelity but off of gullibility. Its users wanted to believe they could have an affair without complications or expense. Many bought into this fantasy so hard that they couldn’t be bothered to get an anonymous gmail or hotmail account, using their work e-mail accounts (including many government employees). Hell, I have two anonymous e-mails accounts and the only thing I’m cheating on is sleep.
Despite the vileness of Ashley Madison and the stupidity of their clients, I am however getting increasingly uncomfortable with the gloating over this. It’s really not my business what other people are doing with their lives. Rolling in the details of this mass doxing like a dog in a dead possum is just awful. So I will not be commenting on anyone whose name comes out, even if it’s some hypocritical religious right figure or prominent politician. Glenn Greenwald:
That the cheating scoundrels of Ashley Madison got what they deserved was a widespread sentiment yesterday. Despite how common both infidelity and online pornography are, tweets expressing moralistic glee were legion. Websites were created to enable easy searches of the hacked data by email address. An Australian radio station offered to tell listeners on air if their spouse’s names appeared in the data base, and informed one horrified woman caller that her husband did.
It’s hard to overstate the devastation to some people’s lives from having their names published as part of this hack: not only to their relationships with their spouses and children but to their careers, reputations, and – depending on where they live – possibly their liberty or even life. What appears on the internet is permanent and inescapable. All of the people whose names appear in this data base will now be permanently branded with a digital “A.” Whether they actually did what they are accused of will be irrelevant: digital lynch mobs offer no due process or appeals. And it seems certain that many of the people whose lives are harmed, or ruined, by this hack will have been guilty of nothing.
In short, everything is awful. Ashley Madison is awful for offering this service and milking desperate men for every dime they could get. The people who used Ashley Madison were greedy and stupid. The hackers are awful for putting this information out there, no matter how much they try to cloak it in social justice rhetoric. And the people digging through the database and gloating over the suffering of cheaters and cheatees are awful.
I don’t have any political slant on this. The government should go after people who hack databases no matter how slimy the victims or how noble the sentiment. It’s not like the hackers were exposing government abuses of power or something.