It’s terribly easy to say “I don’t care what happens, because they got what they deserve.” That Ashley Madison hack is a prime example of this, as it put Josh Duggar’s hypocrisy back in the spotlight. Extending the same line of thought to other users of that site is trivial, as it boasted of being a tool for infidelity. These people signed up intending to cheat on someone, hence we are justified in exposing them as cheats and dismissing the consequences of that exposure as the price of immorality.
“As of this morning, we have two unconfirmed reports of suicides that are associated because of the leak of Ashley Madison customers’ profiles,” Toronto police service staff superintendent Bryce Evans said at a press conference on Monday.
Evans said the nature of the dating site for married people was “of no interest to us as the investigative teams”.
Security analyst Brian Krebs said last week he feared exactly that outcome. “There’s a very real chance that people are going to overreact. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw people taking their lives because of this, and obviously piling on with ridicule and trying to out people is not gonna help the situation,” Krebs, who first reported the hack, said on Wednesday.
The hack, in which some 33m profiles from the service were published online, has been the focus of extortion and phishing attempts.
The site was predominantly used by people looking to cheat on their partner, but it is thought that many single gay people used the service to avoid detection by oppressive governments.
Homosexuality is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, while in Qatar – where 50 members of the site are registered – it carries a five-year prison sentence.
Sky’s Technology Correspondent Tom Cheshire said one Reddit user based in Saudi Arabia has even fled the country after being exposed.
Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile. Actually, scratch that. As I’ll explain below, there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison.
When you look at the evidence, it’s hard to deny that the overwhelming majority of men using Ashley Madison weren’t having affairs. They were paying for a fantasy.
Does someone deserve to die for cheating on a spouse? If so, does that also apply to people who used the website to find same-sex partners? Never mind murder, do either of these groups deserve to be punished for being extorted or scammed?
Suddenly the ethics of the situation is a lot murkier. Releasing the information you have to the public could open people up to attack; working with the vendor privately can be a disaster, as many drag their feet in crafting a patch then underplay the need to install said patch in order to save face; staying silent means wondering if someone else independently discovered it too and is selling it off as a zero-day. There are no easy answers here, as security researchers have obsessed over the issue for decades with no consensus, but whatever action you’re considering you must consider the consequences.