The Human Cost of the Ashley Madison Hack

The Toronto Police held this press conference regarding the Ashley Madison Hacks.

In 2015, hackers calling themselves the Impact Team made good on their threat to leak user information from, a website where people seek out affairs. The hackers leaked account details and information of the users, which revealed the identities of many users.

The Impact Team may have targeted the site because of the moral implications behind it or because of some of the parent company’s questionable business practices.

However, it was the users- not the company- who paid the human cost of the hack.

The hackers may have intended to punish the company, but in doing so, they victimized the user base. They released users’ personal information, some of which was of a sexual nature, without those users’ consent. They went beyond targeting a website and targeted the real people behind the usernames, often with disastrous consequences in those users’ real lives.

In the wake of the leak, many chuckled and looked down their nose at the users whose information was leaked, claiming that these people deserved it for cheating on their spouses.

First, many of the Ashley Madison users may have been part of a polyamorous or open relationship, in which both (or all) people involved agree that it is okay to have multiple partners. Those users were not cheating on their polyamorous partners. It is not the hacktivist’s place to reveal details about the sex lives of consenting adults.

Even those who were truly cheating have the right to privacy, as long as they are not doing anything illegal and harmful. We cannot hack someone and expose intimate details just because we don’t approve of their actions. It is also not the hacktivist’s place to interfere in a marriage.

Real people’s lives were ruined by the leaks. In an article from CNN, one woman who used the site reported that she was afraid of losing her job over the leaks. There have even been suicides linked to the leaks.  To suggest that the people who committed suicide deserved what happened to them is crossing the line into victim blaming.

The hacktivists ruined lives because they had a vendetta against the company, but the company itself was also at fault. The company behind Ashley Madison promised users a feature that meant all of their information on the site would be completely deleted- for a fee of $19. Essentially, users’ information would be at risk unless they paid the fee- which sounds a lot like extortion.

And the “full delete” feature didn’t even work, as many users still had their information released.

Many say that the lesson to be learned from the Ashley Madison hack is that we simply shouldn’t cheat. But the true lesson to be learned is that websites like Ashley Madison are not doing enough to protect their users, and that hacking personal information of private citizens can ruin lives.


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