Last month, a hacking group that calls itself The Impact Team announced that it had stolen the records of 36.3 million users on websites owned by Avid Life Media, including AshleyMadison.com and EstablishedMen.com. Ashley Madison’s tagline is, “Life is short. Have an affair.” The platform lets married people find each other for hookups. Established Men is basically a sugar daddy site, where beautiful women can find rich guys for meaningful relationships (heh).
At first glance, “normal” people like you and me are probably giggling a little. The cheaters got busted! Serves them right! But perhaps this hack teaches lessons to everyone — even those of us who aren’t trying to be unfaithful to a partner.
Here are a few facts and thoughts that may make us think differently about this situation.
- 36.3 million profiles is a lot of people
According to a fascinating analysis by dadaviz, 5.1% of all Americans have an Ashley Madison account, and it’s 6.3% in Canada. There are reportedly 15k military emails in the mix, as well as email addresses from many big-name companies. We have about 7500 people on our mailing list, and that means that maybe 300 people who get my newsletter are on that list.
- Ashley Madison proves that nothing ever disappears
The site let members pay $19 to wipe their profiles from the face of the earth — only it didn’t. The Impact Team cited Ashley Madison’s retention of data about people who paid to delete their profiles as one of the reasons they wanted to hack the company and expose its practices.This article is a fantastic analysis of the hack as a privacy issue, and you need to read the summary of tips to keep your own online data private.
- The email addresses could be fakes
Ashley Madison has been accused of creating fake female profiles to keep their male members interested. Dadaviz says 34% of the 36.3 million emails are fake or inactive.
- The profiles are not verified
When you sign up for Ashley Madison, the platform doesn’t verify that you are who you say you are, so Barak Obama apparently has a number of accounts, and one reporter found out that her email address was used to register an account.
- Not everyone on there is trying to cheat on a partner
About 40% of the profiles in the leak were single people. And a number of reporters and others have reported that they created profiles out of curiosity or for research. Further, you probably have people who set up a profile once and never went back.
- Ashley Madison is more popular than ever
Ok, this fact makes me nauseated. When you go to the site, it says nothing about the hack — and even still sports badges guaranteeing security!Some articles have reported that Ashley Madison is getting lots of sign ups. Guess that proves that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Yuck!
What to do if you think your info has been exposed in the hack
Several reputable sites are letting people check email addresses against the data dumps. Trustify is a site where you can hire private detectives online, and they let you check any email address. HaveIBeenPwned.com checks the databases of lots of major hacking lists to see if you’ve been exposed, but they’re requiring you to register if you want to see if your email is in the Ashley Madison mess (to make sure people are not fishing for info about their spouses or trying to expose others). I have long respected a site called BrandYourself, and they are offering a consultation with a brand reputation consultant if your name is on the list.