Tracking Privacy: The Ashley Madison Hack

Tracking 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.

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While John Oliver’s skewing of Canada’s capital may be generating laughs, the confirmed hack of Ashley Madison, a website facilitating extra-marital affairs, has left hundreds of thousands of people nervously wondering what will happen to their extremely personal data.

Earlier this month, a group of hackers who refer to themselves as The Impact Team posted a small amount of information online and a manifesto demanding the take down of Ashley Madison and Established Men. The Impact Team was particularly concerned with the website’s paid-delete service, an option which promises users that all of their personal data will be removed from Ashley Madison’s servers for a tidy cost of $19. The hackers maintained that this was nothing more than a “profitable scam.”

In a media release on July 20th, Ashley Madison stated: “Contrary to current media reports, and based on accusations posted online by a cyber criminal, the ‘paid-delete’ option offered by AshleyMadison.com does in fact remove all information related to a member’s profile and communications activity. The process involves a hard-delete of a requesting user’s profile, including the removal of posted pictures and all messages sent to other system users’ email boxes. This option was developed due to specific member requests for just such a service, and designed based on their feedback.

The Impact Team responded by releasing the names and information of two men, one from Massachusetts and the other from Mississauga, Ontario, who had paid the $19 fee to have their information scrubbed. Along with the names, the hackers also released a statement:

Full Delete netted ALM $1.7 million in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie. Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn’t deliver. We’ve got the complete set of profiles in our DB dumps, and we’ll release them soon if Ashley Madison stays online. And with over 37 million members, mostly from the US and Canada, a significant percentage of the population is about to have a very bad day, including many rich and powerful people.

In speaking to The Toronto Sun, the Mississauga man said he hadn’t been on the site in at least two years. He has been married for 20 years and is raising a young child. The newspaper described him as “clearly shocked and looked panicked while talking about the impact the release of his name has had on his life.” Other mental health experts are weighing in on the potential impact of releasing further names, with concerns that some users may commit suicide if they’re outed.

As of this date, Ashley Madison has yet to release any further statements on its website. The website that offered anonymity and promised deletion of user data has been caught with its pants down (pun intended), lying to paying customers. This raises doubts about what other corporations are doing with the data we gladly hand over to them. Going forward, can any company that gets a hold of your data be trusted to keep it secure? The implications of this hack go far beyond the ruined lives of married couples around the world. We’ll be monitoring this story and its fallout closely as it develops.

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