Thursday, 20 August 2015

My Thoughts on the Ashley Madison Hack

The Ashley Madison website was hacked about a month ago and hackers stole gigabytes of user data including their full names, addresses and credit card data. On August 18, the hackers released all this data on the web. Now all this sounds really bad until you find out what Ashley Madison actually does. It's a website for men and women in a committed relationship to find other men and women in a committed relationship and have an affair. So while many disagree with the amount of information that the hackers actually released, I'm sure that a lot of people around the world are secretly happy that the data was stolen.

Infidelity is a despicable thing. I know how incredibly hurt and betrayed I would feel if I found out that my partner was cheating on me. The people who run the site are not doing anything illegal but they are complete assholes. Yes, it's true that the activities of the company are completely legal (as their public statements keep reminding us) but I think that in a way, this hack is the internet's way of telling Ashley Madison what gigantic dickheads they are for providing a platform for people to break promises.

However, despite the obvious reprehensibility of the target of the hack I don't condone the actions of its perpetrators. In fact, I would say that stealing personal information and violating the privacy of thousands of people is just as bad - if not worse. Releasing personal information on the internet often leads to online mobs carrying out witchhunts similar to what happened on reddit in the aftermath of the Boston Bombing incident. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. But it doesn't protect you from criticism. In fact when you're doing appalling things, people around you have a right to call you out on it. The idea that I'm trying to explain is beautifully conveyed by this xkcd comic.

Alt text: I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.

So the people at Ashley Madison should take this as a hint. No, what you're doing is not illegal but a lot of people (even some evil people) think it's contemptible. And they're showing you the door.

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