Questioning the ethics of hackers’ vigilante justice

Jessica Smith
Copy Editor

Nobody deserves to have his or her identity and private information leaked to the public, regardless of whether that person is registered on a dating website providing a platform for cheating.

A group of hackers called the Impact Team attacked the Ashley Madison website in July. The group claimed that unless the site, along with other dating sites owned by Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media, was shut down, the group would leak the confidential information of the website’s users.

The hackers made good on their claims last week, releasing the names, addresses, partial credit card numbers and email accounts that customers used to register for the site.

Some might claim that if adulterers post their personal information on a site meant to facilitate adultery, then they had their publicly shaming punishment coming.

But some of the people listed among the leaked Ashley Madison users were not people who had cheated or had wanted to cheat. Suspicious spouses have created profiles in order to research the possible illicit encounters of their partners. Divorce attorneys have a similar practice of registering on the website in order to investigate the possible infidelities of their clients’ spouses.

Since Ashley Madison does not verify email addresses, it would be easy for a sneaky cheater to plug in someone else’s email address and use that person’s name as a false identity.

It no longer matters what the intent was behind the creation of an Ashley Madison account. Public opinion has already condemned every listed user as a cheating scumbag.
This massive data dump has the potential to ruin the lives of 32 million Ashley Madison users worldwide, as well as their spouses and children.

Since the majority of Ashley Madison’s users are married, it follows that the majority of the addresses used to register for the site are also those of innocent family members. Safety is also an issue with such personal information floating around the Internet where predators may easily access it.

The trauma dealt to those family members of Ashley Madison customers cannot be understated. Marriages will end. Children will be known, particularly in small towns with tight-knit communities, as the kids of an adulterer, and they might not even understand something as complicated as infidelity.

Then we come to the obvious reason why the Ashley Madison data dump is not “hacktivism,” but a crime: No matter what our individual moral beliefs are on the situation, people’s sexual exploits are nobody else’s business.

I have enough proverbial skeletons in my closet to feel a little frightened at the prospect of every wrong decision of my own ending up on a list somewhere on the Internet for people to gossip about on Facebook.

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