Ashley Madison, the social networking and dating website that encourages married people to have extramarital affairs, was hacked recently, and the customer databases of around 37 million people has potentially been compromised. The hacker group involved, who call themselves The Impact Team, gave Ashley Madison an ultimatum in an effort to teach them a lesson about security: shut down the site, or we will release the private information of your clients. They did not comply, and according to recent reports, some of their users’ information, which may include real names and addresses, emails, nude photos, and credit card numbers, began appearing online.
The public reaction to the news has largely appeared to be positive, with many folks cheering the Impact Team on. Those people cheated on their spouse, the sentiment seemed to be, they deserve what happens to them. Well, I disagree, and I’m going to shock some of you by taking the side of the cheaters against the hackers. Not because I condone cheating, mind you, but because I respect the privacy of the folks involved. Let me explain.
Personally, when I first heard this news, something about it really bothered me. On the one hand, I think many of us can agree that cheating on your spouse is wrong. It can destroy relationships, and oftentimes ruins the ability many people have to trust. Anyone who has gone through it themselves, or knows someone who has, can probably attest to that. On the other hand, however, hacker groups aren’t exactly paragons of virtue in many cases, either. In this case, the Impact Team committed a crime, stealing information they had no right to, and are now acting as a moral arbiter. There is something wrong with this picture.
Aside from that, there are many other issues involved in this story which bug me. While I can’t exactly support cheating, I also think we have to stop looking at this issue through such black or white lenses. I am of the opinion that marriage can be complicated, and not all extramarital relationships are as horrible as they may first appear. Some, in fact, wouldn’t even be considered “cheating” at all.
For instance, some of the folks whose spouses have memberships with Ashley Madison could very well be aware of it already. Many couples choose to have open relationships, wherein the partners sleep with other people outside the marriage. The partners consent to this, and often there are rules involved that each must follow. Perhaps they agree they cannot sleep with anyone the other knows. Or, maybe the spouses must inform the other before the sex takes place. Different couples have different rules, and while I personally wouldn’t be comfortable with an open relationship, there are those who are. I can respect that. Supposing that some of the customers of Ashley Madison enjoy this lifestyle, should they have their privacy destroyed simply because a hacker group wanted to cause a stir? Should their names, addresses, nude photos, and credit card information be revealed to the public just because you and I might prefer monogamy in our relationships? I don’t think so.
Some situations, however, may be sadder. There are marriages that are marriages in name only, degenerating into loveless, even sexless relationships that are kept together solely for the sake of children, or any of a host of reasons. Others may involve a person who is impotent, or has simply lost the desire for sex in their later years. And what about violent marriages, where sex is taken rather than shared, considered a condition of matrimony lest the other receive the back of a hand? I’m sure you can think of others. Now, again, I’m not saying it is necessarily right to have an extramarital affair in those cases. But I am saying I would understand them wanting to pursue sex elsewhere, and I don’t feel as if they should be publicly humiliated for doing so.
But let’s be honest. These situations I’ve mentioned thus far aren’t the ones many of us first envision when we think of a site like Ashley Madison. No, instead we think of the dutiful and loving wife who worships the ground her husband walks on, all while he is busy sleeping around behind her back. Truthfully, many of the spouses of the clients of Ashley Madison may well be involved in situations just like that. They truly are victims of deceit, and I feel bad for them. But be that as it may, is this how we want them to find out? By being alerted that their husband or wife’s naked photos were put online in a hacking case? That their address and financial information is available for anyone with an internet connection to find and use? Speaking only for myself, I don’t think I would like to find out my wife was cheating on me that way. That wouldn’t just humiliate and harm them. It would humiliate and harm me as well.
Regardless of the people involved, or the situation they are in, there is one more reason that I am against the release of private information in the Ashley Madison hacking story. Hopefully, it is a reason we can all share. The fact is, the marriages and extramarital affairs of others is simply not our business. It is not yours, and it is not mine. Unless we are the husband or wife involved, or are close to those who are, there is no reason for us to know about it. We simply have no right to snoop around in their lives for our own enjoyment.
I don’t like Ashley Madison any more than you do. But the Impact Team, in my opinion, has behaved worse than those who cheat on their spouses. They have stolen and released information they have no right to, creating the potential for a great deal of harm, and all the while pretending to have the moral high ground. While I’m sure these hackers believe that they are doing the right thing, as far as I can see nothing much positive will come from their crime.