Sunday 23 October 2016

32 million users can't be wrong - but they just might be very, very worried

Published 20/08/2015 | 02:30

Right about now, you're probably enjoying a nasty little giggle at the Ashley Madison story.

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On the other hand, you might be one of the estimated '100,000' Irish users of the hook-up site for married people, in which case you've spent the last 24 hours in a cold sweat, desperately hoping your better half doesn't decide to start scrolling through the published data dump of 32 million registered users, like it was some bizarre CAO list for mucky philanderers.

For those of you who don't already know - or pretend not to know, as may be the case for many people - Ashley Madison was the billion dollar dating website set up by a married Canadian couple, Noel and Amanda Biderman, to facilitate married people to meet other married people to have the kind of sexual encounters that were denied to them by the person they are actually married to.

Now that a 10 gigabyte file containing the names, details, sexual peccadilloes, bank account details and pictures of its subscribers is available for all the world, and its spouse, to see, there are a lot of very, very nervous men out there.

I say men, because it should probably come as no surprise that an estimated 90pc of the site's subscribers are frisky blokes. That proves several things, not least that men are more inclined to look for casual hook-ups than women, but it also suggests that those women who are actually looking for a discreet away fixture have too much sense to put their name, photo and credit card details on to a sex site. After all, such risky behaviour calls to mind the old saying - what could possibly go right?

So far, subscribers have included a Canadian CEO, workers at the UN, tens of thousands of government employees from various countries and even the Vatican, which is probably the only organisation happy to see its own employees exposed. After all, when you consider some of the sex scandals that the Vatican has been embroiled in over the last few years, the idea of adults having consensual sex must come as something of a blessed relief for the hierarchy

The charming Noel Biderman, who likes to be called "the King of infidelity" (and you should never trust someone who gives themselves their own nickname), had hoped to float Ashley Madison on the London Stock Exchange later this year, though one feels that the loss of a stock bonanza is the least of his worries right now. That, of course, won't come as much consolation to the people who had signed up looking for a secret fling but are now more concerned with finding a decent divorce lawyer and praying that they come up in front of a judge who may also have been a member, as if Ashley Madison was the Freemasons for scoundrels.

The truly weird thing about the security breach is that all sides say they are doing this to protect the institution of marriage.

The Bidermans have always claimed that their service actually helps to protect those marriages which may be going a little stale, but when you consider that their company motto is "Life is short. Why not have an affair?" it's unlikely they will be winning any awards for services to matrimony any time soon. Indeed, as John Oliver recently joked on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, that sentiment is "as morally dubious as Toyota's short-lived slogan: Feeling bored? Hit someone with your car".

Similarly, the hackers behind the breach, Impact Team, have said they took their cruel but undeniably amusing line of action because the users are "cheating dirtbags who don't deserve discretion".

To add some extra salt to the wounds, Impact Team have some handy life lessons for these "cheating dirtbags" when they urge anyone exposed by their actions to "move on with your life. Learn your lessons and make amends. It might be embarrassing now but you'll get over it".

That's easier said than done, and I doubt anyone who now finds themselves sleeping on their mate's couch because the missus kicked him out will find much comfort in being lectured on matters of morality by a bunch of anonymous hackers who have just destroyed your life.

The response to the story has been interesting. People who would normally think a hacker is someone who chops trees for a living have been quick to laud Impact Team for exposing such shenanigans, as if people's private affairs - literally - should be public material. What these people don't seem to realise is that once we have established a precedent for illegally exposing people for doing something we don't approve of, then all bets are off. It's a very modern reworking of Pastor Niemoller's famous poem, except this time it starts with: "First they came for the cheating dirtbags and I said nothing."

Shockingly, it even transpired that some journalists were members, although the guy from the Guardian insists he was doing it for research purposes which, frankly, is an excuse every journalist has used from time to time, though it's not an argument I'd like to try if my wife was cutting up all my clothes and screaming at me at the time.

So, are there any lessons to be learned from this farce?

Well, obviously the internet is evil, because nobody ever thought to have an affair before broadband came along.

But perhaps more crucially, the most obvious lesson for wannabe cheats is that sometimes you just have to kick it old school - in other words, what's wrong with simply going to a cheesy nightclub and removing your wedding ring at the door?

You see, sometimes the traditional ways are still the best.


Irish Independent

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