Tracking Privacy: Release of Ashley Madison Data a Blow to Internet Privacy

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.

We’ve been following the Ashley Madison story closely, wondering how the next step in this saga would play out. Would Ashley Madison shut down? Were the hackers bluffing? This week, we got our answer. The hacking group who call themselves “The Impact Team” followed through on their threat to release the stolen data they had obtained. Names are now out there and we expect the fallout to be severe.

Early reports across various media outlets indicate that cybersecurity experts believe the data posted is in fact the genuine article. Bloomberg indicated that the data posted seems to have “the full set of data, including keys to users’ preferences in dozens of fields such as “Bondage,” “Erotic Tickling” or “Experimenting with Sex Toys.””

As these latest developments made their way into the Twittersphere, the most common response was a smug, “serves them right” attitude.

This line of thinking misses the larger issue here, which is that the Ashley Madison hack is a blow to internet privacy for us all. While you may have issues with adulterers and the morality of their decisions, consider that if a website as popular and profitable as AshleyMadison.com can have the confidential information of up to 36 million users stolen by hackers, what does this mean for other websites that are home to sensitive information.

Hackers looking to humiliate consumers around the world may employ the same hostile tactics to steal confidential financial or medical information. Pharmaceutical companies, with their deep pockets, could provide a very tempting extortion target for hackers looking for a big pay day. The possibilities are endless when you start listing all the potential targets.

Beyond the matter of internet privacy, this particular leak may have dire consequences for those already close to the edge. Potentially,  someone whose information has been outed could become overwhelmed and choose to take their own life.

There are also severe consequences for outed users in conservative regions around the world. An unconfirmed report on Reddit saw one man living in Saudi Arabia fearing for his life, as he had used the website to pursue homosexual relationships. “I may get stoned to death,” the man wrote. Homosexuality carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

The impact of this data leak reaches far beyond the townhouses of suburbia.

As this story continues to develop, we wonder if this will prove to be the first in a series of extortive hacks and if will we see other large websites shore up their online security with concrete actions. The fallout from this data release has the potential to be explosive while becoming a watershed moment in the evolution of online privacy. Stay tuned.

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