Do Ashley Madison Cheaters Deserve To Keep Their Privacy?

Last month, a hacker collective known as The Impact Team stole 37 million users' data from the infidelity "dating" site Ashley Madison. Today, that data was unleashed to the masses. Many consider this to be just deserts or even divine justice. But hang on a minute. Doesn't everybody deserve the same rights to privacy?

If you've been using Ashley Madison to organise clandestine hookups behind your partner's back, you are scum; plain and simple. In addition to violating their trust you could be infecting them with STIs. Doubtlessly many of these cheaters would trot out the "spousal neglect" argument; but if that's the case, you should just pack up and leave. Cheating is never okay.

With all that said, the hackers behind Ashley Madison's massive data breach have clearly broken the law and violated its users' right to privacy. You might not agree with these people's lifestyle choices. You might even hate them. But does that make a mass "doxxing" (that is, the intentional broadcasting of personally identifiable information) okay?

At first I was firmly in the pitchfork-waving "let them burn" crowd, but this reader comment from a Gizmodo news post has given me second thoughts:

A DOX is a DOX regardless of the target and is universally uncool. I for one am glad to see Ashley Madison perish but this is entirely uncool and the way the tech community is relishing in it is entirely at odds with their “pro-privacy” and “Doxxing is wrong” stance elsewhere.

The man has a point. We're interested in what you guys think. Should everyone be afforded the same rights to privacy, regardless of their (non-illegal) crimes? Or do these protections only apply to reasonable members of society? Cast your vote in the poll below!

See also: Encryption, Privacy, National Security And Ashley Madison


Comments

    last time i checked, cheating is not a crime. What you do with in your house is none of our business unless its a crime. Hogan and sterling saying racist crap in their own homes is none of our business the same goes for tiger woods cheating on his wife. its all none of a our business

      It's the reason family court decisions cannot be reported in the media. These are personal relationship decisions that don't affect others.

      Cheating isn't a crime. Your partner finding out about it isn't a crime either.

      I have issues with anyone's right to privacy when it comes to dealing with other people, but I think it's fair to say that if we make an exception to these losers' rights to privacy, where are we going to draw the line exactly? Some people think cheating is fine so long as nobody else finds out. Some people think that's disgusting. Some people think buying sex toys online is fine. Some people think that's disgusting. Some people think being a member of the Liberal party is fine. Some think that's disgusting.

      How on earth is criminality the standard for what people deserve?

      I think this whole affair (no pun intended) is pretty funny - I have zero sympathy for anyone named and shamed.

        So there is absolutely nothing in your life that you would be upset, or even devastated if your friends, family, co-workers and future employers found out about now, or at any time in the future, for the rest of your life?
        Something stupid/wrong/morally questionable that you did when you were say, 19 is going to hang around for anyone to view, and judge you on, pretty much forever? You are fine with that? We all have a right to privacy, we all, at some point in our lives do terrible, or stupid things, or just things that we, and our friends might think are okay, but others may find appalling. Or even things that we, now 20 years older etc. may now really regret. Privacy should be respected, even for people who might be horrible cheaters, that is their, and their partner's business, not the business of a nosy, judgemental general public.

    A rather partial post but whatever one's thoughts on hooking up outside of a marriage is, as was mentioned in that comment, the law was broken plain & simple. There's nothing illegal in what they were doing, immoral maybe, but not illegal. The pleasure many are taking in the downfall I find equally shameful.

    Have to agree with @thyco, it's all none of our business yet society seems to think that, as long as it's not them, it is.

    Last edited 19/08/15 3:25 pm

      Bang on! AshMad might be against peoples moral beliefs but it's not criminal. If this was any other website it would be clear cut privacy breach.

    Releasing people's information online without their consent is obviously a bad thing to do, but you've got to analyse it case-by-case. Yeah I think "doxxing" is bad, but I wasn't sad when it happened to the leaders of the KKK in America and I'm not sad now that it's happened to a bunch of morally bankrupt people.

    In this situation all the emails that were released weren't innocent, and the punishment is that if their partner checks the data that was leaked they might be forced to tell the truth. For the average Joe Cheater this isn't even relevant - he'd be going about his life exactly the same, maybe worrying a bit more about his wife finding out. This isn't even a punishment, it's just "hey you might be held accountable for this morally unjustifiable thing you did to someone, by them". It's not like the police are getting involved. There might be weirdos calling people from the leak and yelling at them, but I'd imagine those people are in the minority. Really, the worst that can happen to any of the victims of this data breach is that their partner finds out about their infidelity, which (I believe) is the right thing anyway.

    This isn't something society at large has to be involved in, but the cost to the cheaters vs the ability for people being cheated on to know that that's happening isn't even a question for me. Of course if there's a magic button you could press to find out if your partner is cheating on you I would want that.

      I've read a number of single people who met other single people on there. Are they guilty?
      Also how does anyone know that people on the list actually did anything? Does the simple fact of them signing up make them a cheater even if they never messaged/met anyone on there?

        The site is for married people. I'm sure there are non-Jewish people on jdate, but they're of a small enough percentage to not be statistically relevant when discussing things like mass release of information. Also if you're married and you sign up for a website that is for having affairs then I think yeah that is enough to make you "guilty". I think the problem with cheating is trust and if someone says "I'm going to have an affair" that's breaking your trust, and that's essentially what signing up for the site says to your partner.

        Of course it's still down to the individual. If I signed up and my partner saw that I did and I went "yeah I was just curious about the way they facilitated chat between members" she would be like "oh okay" and be fine because she trusts me. But if I was cheating on her and she knew we were having problems in our relationship but didn't know why and THEN she saw that I had signed up for that site then my intentions are pretty clear.

          My privacy is relevant no matter how statistically insignificant. If my name were on that list, I'd be livid, and so would you.

          You can moralise this any way you like, but it still comes back to the fact that everyone is entitled to a certain amount of privacy and these people have willfully violated the privacy of others. That is a criminal act. It is arguably even more immoral than the people cheating.

            I think that's an interesting opinion. Your comment about the invasion of privacy being more immoral than people cheating made me think of Robin Hood for some reason. We all like him even though he killed people & stole things because his reasons for doing it were morally good. Do you think the same logic is applicable here? This group of people who hacked into the website and breached privacy laws did something bad but they did it so that people being cheated on could find out (which is probably considered by most to be an admirable goal).

              I can see why you might think of it, but don't think it's an apt analogy. The story of Robin Hood is a parable that teaches the difference between rule of law and rule of ethics (I'll use ethics because it is more or less neutral. Morality has a lot of cultural baggage and a strong religious association). It's an easy way to understand Kohlberg's Moral Development theory without getting technical. Basically, being correct (rule obeying) isn't necessarily being right (ethically principled).

              Robin Hood was trying to help powerless people living under an oppressive regime. In the story we know for a fact that the prince has stolen the throne from his brother, John. We know that he and the sheriff are abusing their power and taxing people into abject poverty. We know that the people are literally starving to death. There's a very stark line between good and bad and the people who are bad are the keepers of law and order. Those keepers have made unethical laws, therefore it is ethical to break them.

              This situation doesn't fit that narrative very well. there's no 100% known evil and in this case the laws they broke are ethical. We universally agree that we all deserve an amount of privacy (so in Robin Hood, we would all agree that we can have enough money to live on). When we invade privacy (take their money), we have to be very sure that we can justify it (it is fair taxation needed for the good of all). This privacy breach (theft of money) simply can't be justified.

              So what these Robin Hood Hackers have done isn't stealing from the sheriff and prince to give the money back to the poor. They've seen peasants who may or may not have stolen from other peasants, stolen everything they could possibly take from each of these possible offenders, and then thrown the money all over the town square so they can loudly yell "Stealing is wrong!"

              Regardless of how terribly some of these people have acted, stealing everything from everyone who might be an offender because you think stealing is bad is hypocritical. It's also needlessly punitive. It hurts the very people it claims to help.

          I do research into religious extremism, so my name would potentially be on a lot of odd looking sites. Other people sign up to things just out of interest or to see what it is about. Other people use fake emails to sign up, that might be the same as your genuine email.
          People's lives could be ruined, in an ongoing way (future job or relationship prospects) just because they were interested to see how something works, or were researching, or just messing about. You can't be picky about privacy for people's legal activities, if you support these people being named and shamed, then when something from your non-spotless past or future becomes common knowledge, then you let it happen.
          A friend of mine once said, there is nothing wrong with taking a dump, but I don't want people watching me while I do it.

          A world where we don't respect each other's privacy, and jump to outrage and enjoy watching their faults be publicly outed and exploited, is a small minded, mean and nasty place. I don't want to live there.

        Single people aren't going to to be accused of cheating, are they...

        The site is specifically marketed as a place to cheat - you can't have signed up there without being aware of that.

          They wont be accused of cheating but does it make it fair that they have all their personal information (full name, address, phones number etc) leaked to the world?

    I do feel like I'm the only one more outraged that not only were Ashley Madison charging a $10 fee to securely delete accounts, but that they never actually bothered to securely delete them.

    But if wikileaks exposes secrets it is ok?

      Exposing government abuse of rights =/= abusing those rights yourself.

        I think the issue is a bit more complex than that. Some things ought to be kept secret (eg nuclear armament codes) and we vote for the people who decide which of those things are kept secret.

        Now democracy only works if you have a strong and free press. the general cycle of democracy is Vote people in, monitor what they do, then repeat. The press is important for the monitor what they do phase.

        However the press shouldn't publish anything they want. They shouldn't publish nuclear launch code, identities of under cover agents, So who decides what they can and can't publish ? The people we vote in, which is a huge conflict of interest.

        This isn't a great answer, so in practice it is "whatever they can get away with", which in wikileaks case is a lot. I don't think that is a great answer either, but when wikileaks exposes something, everyone thinks they are heros.

          I think this is a completely different issue. Wikileaks exposed sweeping, institutionalised rights abuses, high level corruption, and a whole lot of things that our collective western governments were doing that secretly gave them great power over us. These things were immoral, illegal, and objectively harmful to the citizens they were supposed to protect. Whatever else they exposed is either good or not good on a case by case basis.

          This isn't a clear-cut issue of exposing governmental corruption and rights abuse. This is doxing someone because you don't like how they fuck. It's not even the same ballpark. Hell, it's not even playing the same sport.

    AM business and the way they promote it is pretty immoral. The idea of making money out of infidelity and justifying it with a 'life is short, so just go for it' attitude is pretty gross. However, you can't justify stealing and releasing their data as some moral crusader against marital infidelity. That's gross too. In a way it is almost worse because of the self-righteous nature of it. It's only a step or two away from being like those officers of vice and virtue in the Islamic world.

    We can't argue that privacy is a right provided that whatever the person is up to isn't salacious or immoral. Reading various comments and articles about this it seems people can't distinguish between whistle-blowing or leaking information which is in the public's right to know and exposing private information about people which isn't n the public's interest.

      Exactly this.
      It's the same quandary that the police face when they have to protect someone that has done some pretty vile stuff to others, because they are upholding the law, not virtues.

      A line in the sand is still a line, no matter which side of it you stand. Likewise for laws - equal application to all, regardless of personal lifestyle choices.

      Do you feel glad when the bad guy cops it in a movie? Don't pretend you don't judge people based on their behaviour, and feel better about someone "bad" being hurt than someone "good".

      It's human nature.

        And how is that the same or similar to this? Additionally, feeling that someone has suffered something they deserved because they behaved in a way I think is immoral and agreeing with the way in which their misdeeds were exposed are two different things.

        I've known cheating has occurred within a couple and struggled with "should I confront the cheater, tell the victim, or just keep my mouth shut"? What I wouldn't do is run around and tell as many other people as I could find in the hopes that it would get back to the victim and embarrass the cheater.

        Cheating is wrong, but internet vigilantes who think they are the moral arbiters of society who've been bestowed an authority to illegally obtain and release private info aren't to be celebrated or condoned.

          You can't expect people to judge these hackers as harshly as hackers who exposed people from some website that most people wouldn't consider distasteful - it's never going to happen.

          We're wired to judge harshly people who cause disharmony in society, and no matter how much you deny the same trait in yourself, you do to, even if you manage not to in this particular case.

            You're right. When you're not the one being exposed it is easy to be smug and say "haha, suckers. Cop that!" without bothering to consider all of the facts and issues raised by what's transpired.

            We might be wired to respond a certain way, but we also possess intellect which allows us to assess a situation beyond the initial excitement & judgement of those involved. This event shows just how absolutely full of crap some privacy advocates are when a particular company or group suffers a breach. One's stance regarding privacy cannot be "I advocate privacy provided I get to choose who gets it."

    I wonder how, if at all, this is being reported in France. The French attitude to extra-marital affairs seems far less prudish and is almost encouraged in come situations. If it's being reported it's probably regarding the technical/security aspects or, more likely, "ah, look at the silly up tight Americans etc. You know what you need to do to relax? Get yourself a mistress!"

    I recall reading the story of a man who signed up to AM because in his home county homosexuality was illegal, carrying very significant consequences if discovered.

    What about someone with a spouse in a permanent coma, or whose spouse became mentally incapable of granting consent (Dementia etc.), and they don't want a divorce but do want some companionship?

    Very few situations are as simple as they seem at first glance.

    Quite an interesting article on someone who joined AM to see what it was that women wanted from the site.

    http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/ever-wondered-women-cheat-married-guy-goes-undercover-ashley-madison-find-hesaid/

    Kind of disgusted by the puritanical rhetoric being spouted not just by the readers, but apparently the article authors too. I think referring to people as scum is entirely unnecessary - what people do in their private lives (barring criminal activity) is no one's business. Whether what they're doing is wrong or immoral is entirely inconsequential, when we as a community start picking and choosing who gets rights to privacy, we are going to start having issues. Pretty disappointed in the editors for letting this slide on through.

    Typo: "just desserts" should read "just deserts". (As per Angus Kidman's article from December 2014. http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/12/enjoy-a-dessert-in-the-desert-and-receive-your-just-deserts/ )

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