Hackers Release AshleyMadison Database, Prove they're Jerks

The hackers who stole user account data from AshleyMadison.com have followed through on their threat to release the names and personal information online. 9.7 GB worth of data was dumped onto the Internet, which could be very embarrassing for those people since the site touts itself as the go-to place for adults looking to have affairs. The group, calling themselves The Impact Team, said they're trying to force the site to shut down because it wasn't following through on user requests to delete accounts after charging them US$19, and because they don't like the site's premise—both of which sound like flimsy excuses for being socially irresponsible jerks.

Hackers stole and then posted personal information online from AshleyMadison.comHackers stole and then posted personal information online from AshleyMadison.com

The Impact Team targeted two of Avid Life Media's properties: AshleyMadison.com and Established Men. They made off with the customer database in July and threatened to release everything unless ALM shut down both of the sites. Interestingly, they didn't seem to have any issues with Cougar Life, which is ALM's site for connecting older women with younger men.

The group posted the database on Tuesday with details for some 32 million user accounts. The database includes names, email addresses, home addresses, payment histories, and what looks like transaction numbers or possibly the last four digits of credit card numbers.

The Impact Team felt justified in releasing user information as a way to blackmail ALM into shutting down the sites saying, "Too bad for those men, they're cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion."

ALM denied the accusation about failing to delete user accounts in July saying, "Contrary to current media reports, and based on accusations posted online by a cyber criminal, the 'paid-delete' option offered by AshleyMadison.com does in fact remove all information related to a member's profile and communications activity."

The Impact Team's crusade failed to convince ALM to shut down AshleyMadison.com and Established Men, and now is putting potentially millions of people in awkward and embarrassing situations. First, the sites don't verify email addresses when new users sign up, so it's very possible people who never created accounts of their own are in the database. Second, how people conduct their personal lives isn't anyone's business and The Impact Team had no right or justification for releasing the data they stole.

The Impact Team chose to pass blanket judgement on AshleyMadison.com's customers and called everyone cheaters. It's a safe bet some of those users were on the hunt for illicit affairs, but relationships are complicated and the rules for yours may not be the same as the rules others follow.

Take open relationships and polyamorous relationships as an example. Both allow for multiple partners, but under terms that all of the participants agree to. In each there's the possibility for multiple sexual partners or love interests, and neither constitutes cheating. Those are also some of the people who use AshleyMadison.com, and The Impact Team's actions are opening their lives to embarrassment and ridicule because our culture deems anything that falls outside a narrow definition of relationships, or anything that makes us feel awkward or uncomfortable, as bad—or in this case, an affair.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if AshleyMadison.com's customers were looking for affairs or other relationships. The people on the list aren't "getting what they deserve," and The Impact Team broke the law when it stole ALM's database and used it as a threat to try to shut down the company's sites.

In the end, all The Impact Team managed to accomplish was to break the law, potentially embarrass and hurt people by exposing their personal lives on the Internet, and passing judgement where they had no right to do so. Better watch your back, The Impact Team, because a few million people are really angry and they'd love to get a piece of you.