Why the Ashley Madison Hack is Going to be Awful

In case you missed it, Ashley Madison, the website that specializes in meeting people online to have an affair, was hacked, with millions of email addresses, aliases, and other assorted personal information having been taken. Last night, the info was dropped in large, mostly unorganized files on torrent sites. The Bowels of the Internet (4chan, Reddit, etc.) have been combing through the information, starting with government and corporate email addresses.

John Herrman over at The Awl has a great piece on what is happening and what we can expect, but let me add a few thoughts here.

Ashley Madison specializes in affairs. You want one? You can probably find one there. I did not realize just how popular it was was until the numbers from this hack started pouring out. Millions of people – MILLIONS – had signed up for the service, and paid actual money to meet the mistress of their dreams.

However, no matter how secret and illicit you want to be, the Internet is filled with people who thrive on chaos and anarchy. My colleague Neil Stevens has talked about them for years, and as someone who has frequently visited some of these places online, I can assure you that it can be even worse than you hear about. These are people who pride themselves on ruining the lives of anyone they deem unjust, and trolling the ever-loving hell out of the Internet is just something they get their jollies on.

But, as Herrman points out at The Awl, this hack is a lot more than a financial issue. We’re talking lives that are about to be up-ended and ruined. Yes, because they made a really dumb mistake by 1) fooling around and 2) doing so on the Internet. The social effect of this goes well beyond anything that could happen financially, and it is further proof that in a technological society, we may have progressed beyond our maturity.