'The Ashley Madison hackers aren't heroes. They're a threat to all of us.'

The Ashley Madison hack was not justice on some dodgy cheaters. It was a crime.

In the days immediately following the Ashley Madison hack, the world gleefully celebrated the news that hackers had exposed the user data of roughly 32 million cheaters.

There was something so wonderfully pervy, so smugly easy to get behind, so delightfully titillating about the story. When the hack exposed self-described ‘family man; Josh Duggar as a cheating hypocrite, no media outlet could resist that juicy tale (including Mamamia).

But now the dust is settling, the real human cost of the Ashley Madison hack is becoming clear.

The personal data of some 32 million users has been published online.

Some of the mostly-male users named in the hack have been not just humiliated, but exposed to risk of imprisonment and even death.

A gay man from Saudi Arabia has taken to Reddit to share his fears that leaked data from Ashley Madison’s Down Low site — which caters for “married men seeking other men for casual, no-strings fun” — will expose him to the death penalty under his nation’s laws.

“For many gay people around the world, being outed is a life-threatening experience,” he wrote. “The risks for us are greater than the risks for married Westerners cheating on their spouses. That’s why AM’s promise of discretion appeals to us.”

He’s far from alone in his dilemma. According to The Morning Bulletin, Data leaks monitoring firm CybelAngel reports it has already counted 1,200 Ashley Madison account email addresses from Saudia Arabia. Meanwhile, more than 50 of the leaked accounts trace back to Qatar, where gay sex is punishable by up to five years in jail, and a user list on reveals at least one user email account from Iran, where adultery can be punished by stoning, lashing, or death.

“But now the dust is settling, the real human cost of the Ashley Madison hack is becoming clear.”

Other users across the world have been left distressed by the leak to the point of suicidality.

“Leading up to the leak I was already suicidal due to suffering from long-term depression,” one US man wrote online.

“The news of the hack put me on the edge, and now that it’s all out, I have no idea what I’ll do.

Another says he is “buckling under the pressure” and considering taking his life.

“If my job finds out I’m really afraid that they’ll fire me, which is the worst thing in the world for me now,” he writes online. “I do have life insurance that will pay off even if it is suicide, so at least my family will be taken care of.”

Data and security analyst Brian Krebs told the Guardian the risk should not be dismissed. “There’s a very real chance that people are going to overreact,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw people taking their lives because of this.”

“But the damage caused by the Ashley Madison hack extends beyond the sleazy, lonely men and their loving wives. The victims are, potentially, all of us.”

Wives and partners have, of course, formed much of the collateral damage in the hacking scandal. The devastation caused to their lives, and those of the children they look after, cannot be understated.

While some may argue the betrayed spouses deserve to know the truth about their cheating partners, discovering that infidelity by seeing your partner’s dirtiest, strangest sexual preferences published online in a searchable format seems particularly cruel.

The harsh reality of the hack’s effect on spouses was illustrated yesterday on breakfast radio, when a Sydney woman learned live on air that her husband was registered on the site during a segment on Fitzy and Wippa’s Nova FM show.


Related: Ashley Madison has released a big list of cheaters.

But the damage caused by the Ashley Madison hack extends beyond the sleazy, lonely men and their loving wives.

The victims are, potentially, all of us.

Think about it: Every person I know has some private information about themselves lurking online. You must, too.

Many of those secrets are not as deeply personal or embarrassing as the offbeat sexual fetishes revealed in some of the Ashley Madison leak, sure. But the Facebook messages you sent to your ex-boyfriend, that venting email about your boss, the selfie you took of your boobs back in uni?

All of that is sitting online or in the dark depths of a computer somewhere, no matter how hard you try to delete it.

And the Ashley Madison hack has made disturbingly clear just how easily it could be revealed to the wider world.

There are fears the hack may drive some users to suicide.

The Impact Group probably believes its done a noble thing. Its hacking attack was targeted not at cheaters so much as Ashley Madison’s owners, Avid Life Media, because it charged $19 for an apparently useless  “full delete” of user profiles. (Read about that here.) The Impact Group’s main motivation, it seems, is to send a strong message about consumer protection.

For “bringing down” Ashley Madison, the hacker group has been widely congratulated on social media.

“BOOM! Well done,” One Twitter user wrote.

“Way to go,” others posted.

While the group’s intention was probably not to ‘out’ those who may now be killed for their sexuality, or to drive exposed cheaters to suicide, or to devastate families?

It has, because those are the side-effects of irresponsible criminal action.

In choosing to hack and publish stolen information, the Ashley Madison hackers have damaged millions of lives.

They have committed a crime for which millions of everyday family members, and some very oppressed and distressed users of the site, will pay dearly.

Related: ‘I tried to sign up to Ashley Madison.’

We cannot celebrate, glorify and legitimise the Ashley Madison hackers’ actions while demanding and expecting for our own information be kept private.

So let’s not pretend the Ashley Madison hackers are our heroes.

They have not delivered justice. They have proved they are a threat to all of us.

Do you agree? Do you think the hackers’ actions are commendable?

Related content:

Josh Duggar has admitted to cheating on his wife.

Ashley Madison has released a big list of cheaters.

‘I tried to sign up to Ashley Madison.’