I find all the news and opinions on the recent AshleyMadison.com hack intriguing. As a future journalist, I figured I'd throw my thoughts into the ring.
For those who don't know, the basic story here: a website called AshleyMadison.com was hacked earlier this summer. AshleyMadison.com is a site advertised and known for facilitating marital affairs, but its purpose is just discreet hook-ups. The hackers, who call themselves Impact Team, posted some users' information and some of the website's source code to prove the hack was legitimate. Then they threatened to release the names, addresses, emails, credit card information, and sexual preferences of the 35-40 millions users if the parent company, Avid Life Media, didn't shut the site down completely and immediately. ALM did not post a warning to its users on the site and did not shut the site down. So this week, the hackers made good on their promise and released all the details of all those users on the world wide web.
Let's start with the obvious: cheating is bad. Cheating is not okay. Cheating is wrong. Cheating is immoral. Which leads many people to laugh or smirk at the personal information released, because the cheaters got what was coming to them. From this point of view, the hack was okay, even good.
Except, that's not the whole story.
For one thing, not everyone on AshleyMadison was a cheating spouse. There were many LGBT individuals from countries where homosexuality/transgender is illegal, even punishable by death. Some people believe homosexuality is wrong, and some don't. But as someone who believes it's a sin, I still don't think helping oppressive (mostly Islamic) Arabic and Middle Eastern countries track down and kill formerly secret homosexuals is acceptable. These hackers helped facilitate murder.
Another point to consider is -- why are we looking at this from the customers' perspective? Yes, their information was shared -- but we should take the company and the hackers' part of this story into consideration, as well.
This company is a legal company, but they lied to their customers. Information said to be kept secret was kept in the wrong digital storage bin, so to say. Information promised to be deleted obviously wasn't. And files shared in the hack prove that the company was well aware of the security problems which led to this hack. So, regardless of this website's services, we should be scrutinizing them just as much as -- if not more than -- the customers. The privacy and security of legal online companies should be a major discussion here.
Now, the hackers. The nameless, faceless hackers. These hackers exposed cheating spouses. They also shared millions of people's credit card information without any consideration of how that would affect those people. They shared full names and addresses of millions of individuals on the internet. They put countless lives in danger and made the problems and shame of marriages they have no part in very public. Why? It would appear their first goal was to "get" the company, and their only other goal was to laugh at and scorn its users. Not only is this very illegal -- not only did their actions endanger millions both physically and financially (not to mention the issue of identity theft) -- but they show no remorse or compassion. For a group claiming they want to take down a company for lying to their customers and saving private information, they have an incredibly hypocritical way of doing it.
Why did they choose Ashley Madison? Why not fight the corruption of sex trafficking, which is just as immoral as and far more illegal and deadly than cheating? And why are they either so ignorant or so cold to the many site users who weren't cheating on spouses? If a group with such self-righteousness and so little value for others' privacy has the power to access and release this much supposedly secure information, I fear what target they might choose next. Everyone on the internet should.
I've seen a lot of the headlines and read a lot of the articles surrounding this information dump, and I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed with the media's focus on telling what happened without discussing the financial, legal, and internet-security implications -- to individuals and to the countries the majority of users live in. I'm disappointed with social media users and the comments on these articles showing how widespread the devil-may-care and self-righteous attitudes are towards this very serious privacy and security breach. I am disappointed at the lack of reasonable thought and empathetic compassion shown by America and the world at large.
Please, readers, whatever opinion you decide to take up, make sure it's backed up by research and compassionate consideration. Let's get a reasonable conversation going on how to handle this hack and prevent even worse dangers in our future.