Why Nobody Should Ever Search The Ashley Madison Data
Genuine advice from one who has researched this purely for work reasons
Analysis Some readers of the Register – or perhaps their spouses or significant others, or their bosses or colleagues or other people who may think they want to know if someone is "trustworthy" – may have heard that it is now possible to search online for evidence that a person may have been using the website Ashley Madison. Some users of that site may have been hypothetically considering possibly having an extramarital or otherwise illicit affair, though the mere fact of a person being registered with the site does not, of course, indicate any such thing.
As a professional journalist seeking to inform all of my many readers I have now researched this matter thoroughly, and I have compiled some authoritative and technically solid advice for anyone who might be thinking of looking at the data leaked from the site. Here are the points that all of my readers need to consider before taking such a step.
1. Your Computer Will Almost Certainly Get Infected With A Virus If You Do
This is an unfortunate, but true, fact. Most websites purporting to have the Ashley Madison data available for download or search are in fact fakes set up by cyber criminals. Even clicking through to such a site from a Google search is nearly certain to infect your computer with serious malware that could harvest your bank account codes, credit card details and all your personal data, download masses of offensive pornography onto your machine without your knowledge, use it for illegal peer-to-peer sharing of pirated files and plunge you into a lifelong identity-theft nightmare. For this reason alone it is extremely unwise even to go looking for the Ashley Madison data.
2. Just Searching The Data Could Add Your Name To An Online List Of Likely Ashley Madison Users
It sounds crazy, but it's true. Large numbers of unscrupulous companies are offering webpages or sites which purportedly allow you to search through what they say is the leaked Ashley Madison data. But they themselves will log your details as you use their service, and put these details on a list, which of course can then in turn appear on the internet.
This would then inevitably lead people seeing you on that list to assume you were checking whether your details were on Ashley Madison, and to assume you have a guilty conscience. Even if a search service appears to take no personal details from you, it will almost certainly be logging your "IP address" and placing "cookies" on your computer. This will inevitably reveal you to the world as a guilty Ashley Madison user even if you had never even heard of the website before the recent media firestorm.
Be safe – be sure – simply don't even click on any site or service that claims to allow access to the Ashley Madison data.
3. The Mere Fact That Someone's Details Are In The Ashley Madison Data Means Absolutely Nothing At All
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people whose details were held by Ashley Madison had absolutely no intention whatever of having any sort of illicit affair. Many profiles were created using people's details – for instance their names, photographs nude and/or dressed, email addresses etc – without their knowledge by other persons for a huge variety of reasons.
These things are easily harvested from the internet. Even where someone's credit card details are found in the Ashley Madison data, in almost all cases those card numbers will have been stolen by criminals – perhaps by hacking a completely legitimate online store or other website – and used fraudulently without the owner's knowledge.
Even where this has not occurred and someone appears to have really registered with the site of their own volition, again this means nothing. Most Ashley Madison users were motivated by innocent curiosity: and in many cases they may have had no interest in having an affair but instead bona-fide work reasons to be registered with the site.
This is especially true of professional journalists, the great majority of whom were registered with the site in order to do essential research into prospective articles on web security, lifestyle features or literally dozens of other valid journalism areas.
It's important to be aware that such articles often take a long time to prepare, or may be rejected by editors, or for many other journalism reasons will probably not have actually been published prior to the Ashley Madison hack – but nonetheless a good deal of valid work-related research will normally have been carried out on the site.
4. It Is Morally Wrong To Even Look At The Ashley Madison Data. If You Have Looked At It You Are The Truly Evil One – Far Worse Than An Adulterer – And Nobody Should Or Will Care What You Say Or Think
Here's another hard, cold fact for all the judgemental Victorian moralistic prudes out there. Yes, a minority of Ashley Madison users do appear to have made use of the site to have sex outside their marriages or life partnerships. But the vast majority of this small minority were in fact totally justified in doing that.
Online comments all over the internet from such people prove conclusively that almost every single one of them was with a partner who was totally unwilling or unable to have any sex with them ever, despite every possible exertion by the AM user. Very often this was because of a serious and unforeseen medical condition (such as pregnancy or frigidity, for instance).
The huge majority of such AM users had been clearly and explicitly offered free permission by their spouses or partners to have sex outside the relationship. Almost without exception their testimony reveals that they have selflessly gone to great lengths to make sure that they did not contract a venereal disease from other AM users, even though they were not getting any sex whatsoever from their partners and therefore could not infect them, and nobody involved ever had more than one or two sexual partners who were for their part also in loving but open relationships.
Perhaps in a few cases some AM users may not have had permission from their spouses to play away, or their spouses may not have fully realised that they had implicitly, but nonetheless quite clearly, granted such permission.
But is it fair to selfishly deny a person sex? No. It is not, people have a right to have sex and if their spouses totally or somewhat-totally deny them that, they have every right to sleep with other people. Moralistic judgemental prudes may say that they should let their partner know clearly and unambiguously that they are doing so, but that is obvious bunk.
Many people are economically trapped in their loveless marriages, for instance, and won't someone, for goodness' sake, think of the children? Should a couple's children be forced to suffer through the hell of divorce just because one of their parents has decided for whatever reason to more or less give up on sex? Obviously not. In such cases the right and moral thing to do is have an affair, and avoid hurting your family by telling them things they don't want to know. After all, it's well known that the less painful, easier path is generally the more righteous one.
So even the tiny minority of AM users who actually have had affairs behind their partners' backs are GOOD people who have done NOTHING wrong. And yet their lives will be DESTROYED by people looking at the Ashley Madison data. They will lose their jobs – that's a well established fact, moralising judgemental bosses will sack employees for being AM users unless they are stopped by law. The US military, for instance – which attaches ludicrous and outdated importance to its members' abiding by their publicly sworn oaths – is conducting a vicious moralistic purge already.
So the truth is that looking at the Ashley Madison data is a far worse act than having an affair. What we actually need is a climate of moral outrage against the sort of judgemental Victorian prudes who would even look at it, not at the brave, righteous – and in many cases only tangentially or professionally involved – people identifiable in the AM data.
As the respected expert and professional investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald points out:
The Scarlet Letter, the 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne set in a Puritanical Massachusetts town in the mid-17th century ... chronicles the life of a woman who is found to have committed adultery ... as punishment, she is forced to stand before her village with the letter “A” attached to her dress ...
Take a woman who has two children with special needs, who has been out of the workforce for 15 years, and who is financially dependent on a husband who decided five years into their marriage that he was “done with sex” but refuses to allow her to have sex with anyone else ...
Or say you’re a gay man or lesbian forced through societal or religious pressure into a heterosexual marriage, and “cheating” is your only form of sexual fulfillment: Is that clearly morally wrong? If you’re a minister in Puritanical Boston, or Queen Victoria, bitter condemnation of adulterers in all cases may come easy ...
Whatever else is true, adultery is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse. Except in the most unusual cases — such as a politician hypocritically launching morality crusades against others — it’s most definitely not any of your business.
As Greenwald shows us, it is far more morally wrong to invade someone's privacy than it is to have an affair behind your spouse's back. What does that mean for someone who suspects their partner may have had an affair?
Quite simply this. By looking at the Ashley Madison data you will almost certainly see other people named apart from your partner, who probably isn't even in there or if he is, it's for completely innocent reasons.
Even if it turns out that your partner has done something wrong, you have now done something much more wrong in the course of finding that out.
So don't look - it's that simple. You can trust me on this. ®