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.
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 PasteBin.com reveals at least one user email account from Iran, where adultery can be punished by stoning, lashing, or death.
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.”
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.