Tracking Privacy: Fallout From the Ashley Madison Hack

tracking privacy_final_with hashtagTracking Privacy, by Privatis Technology Corporation, monitors the evolving discussion surrounding privacy while commenting on the stories that matter most to the the growing number of consumers who are making privacy a priority.

Ten days have passed since the first data dump from the Ashley Madison hack was posted. As the news broke, we wondered if this story would have legs and continue to develop or if it would quiet down after an initial flurry of reporting. So far, it seems that this story will continue to generate headlines as careers come to an end, corporations dissolve and, tragically, human lives are lost.

The latest victim in this saga is Ashley Madison’s very own CEO and Founder, Noel Biderman, who stepped down from his post today. Earlier this week, media reports indicated that Biderman had used the website he created to potentially engage in multiple affairs. Email conversations between him and a woman discussing meeting at a hotel were made public. In another string of leaked messages, Biderman wrote to a young woman that he was “fantasizing about later this evening.” Throughout the controversial rise of Ashley Madison, the married Biderman, a father of two young children, had maintained that he had never used the site to have an affair.

We’ve also learned that of the 37 million names included in the data dump, only a small percentage of users were actually living, breathing women. According to a report by Gizmodo, of the 5.5 million accounts listed as “female” only about 12,000 or so were operated by actual women. The article concluded that “we’re left with data that suggests Ashley Madison is a site where tens of millions of men write mail, chat, and spend money for women who aren’t there.”

The real world impact of the leak has also begun to assert itself. On Monday morning as reports out of Toronto indicated that a pair of suicides were linked to the data breach. Meanwhile in Alabama, the mayor of a small city has requested a leave of absence after his credit card information showed up in the data breach. Even “The Worldwide Leader In Sports,” ESPN, has seen its name mixed up in this story, as Deadspin matched over 100 employee names with the data dump.

The story continues to develop and we expect to see more headlines in the coming week. This hack has also been teaching us a poignant lesson in digital privacy. Anything that we write online creates a digital trail that can be traced back to us, whether we like it or not. Even as people and their situation change, the data and information they leave behind is permanent and can emerge at anytime.

With that lesson in mind, it is difficult not to see the Ashley Madison hack as a watershed moment in the digital world that we inhabit. Now more than ever, it’s become clear that when we’re online, we are very rarely anonymous, even when we think or, as in the case of Ashley Madison users, when we pay for that privilege.

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