Everyone’s heard of the massive data dump that hit the web a little over a year ago from the notorious dating website Ashley Madison – a website specifically aimed at providing extramarital affairs to registered clients. If you haven’t heard of it or want a refresher, here’s a quick video explaining what happened.
The Canadian parent company, Avid Life Media, was warned and subsequently hacked by a group known as The Impact Team, who stole names, addresses, and credit card information, and posted the data online under the guise of hactivism. Now, I’ve discussed hactivism vs cyberterrorism before, and by my own definition, I have to agree that what Team Impact did was not an act of moral hactivism but rather an attack of cyberterrorism.
Let’s break it down. The motivation for the hack assumes a certain kind of morality: that cheating on a spouse is bad, Ashley Madison sponsored and provided affairs, and therefore the website and the subscribers were bad and needed to be exposed.
Well, sure, if the world were black and white. However, this is a massive assumption of traditional marriage roles and excludes every single type of relationship outside of a strictly monogamous marriage. Many users on the site were married but in open relationships, meaning the spouse already knew that their partner was seeing someone outside of their relationship. Some users had signed up for the site years ago when going through divorces but had never actually gone on dates, or they had joined during a “rough patch” that had since healed. Of course, some of the users were cheating on their spouses without knowledge or consent, but what gives an outside source the right to come in and pass brutal judgment on a website without considering all the ethical ramifications involved?
I’d like to compare it to the forced eugenics program that pushed its way into American history from 1909 to the early 1980s. The U.S. government sterilized hundreds of thousands of men and women without their knowledge or consent as a way to control the birth of “undesirables”: namely the poor or people with disabilities, people of color, and immigrants.
In both cases – forced sterilization and Ashley Madison – someone with the means to act came along and said “I’m smarter than you and more powerful than you, therefore I have the right and the means to force you to submit to my will.”
In the end, I’m saying that The Impact Team had no right to “out” those 32 million users under the guise of moral righteousness. Couples got divorced and some even killed themselves over the guilt of being discovered. This was not a harmless act of hactivism. This was malicious, no matter how moral The Impact Team claim to be.
If you want to hear how one couple was affected by the hack, check out this NPR interview.