Ashley Madison, Morality, and Legality

August 10, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment


Broken MarriageSex sells. Or so the old advertising cliché tells us. But even if it’s cliché, it also happens to be true. And no company knows this truth better than Ashley Madison. They have built their business on appealing to those who want to cheat on their spouses. Their slogan, “Life is short; have an affair,” sums up their business model. They promise would-be cheaters the ability to discretely find each other online, meet up, and break their wedding vows, all the while hiding their infidelity from their spouses. But last month, the security of Ashley Madison’s secretive sex services was dealt a blow. The New York Times reports:

The company behind Ashley Madison, a popular online dating service marketed to people trying to cheat on their spouses, said on Monday that the site had been breached by hackers who may have obtained personal data about the service’s millions of members.

The group of hackers behind the attack, going by the name Impact Team, said they had stolen information on the 37 million members of Ashley Madison. To prevent the data from being released, the hackers said, the company needed to shut down the site entirely.[1]

This story is fascinating on many fronts. First, it is fascinating that the Times refers to Ashley Madison as “a popular online dating service.” Truthfully, it is nothing of the sort. Dating is not the same as hooking up. Ashley Madison is not particularly interested in promoting healthy, stable, long-term relationships. They are interested in helping people scratch their lustful itches.

Second, it is fascinating how Noel Biderman, the CEO of Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, is characterizing this breach of security: “Like us or not, this is still a criminal act.”[2] Mr. Biderman characterizes what has happened to his company only in legal terms. He does not say what the hackers did was wrong. He does not talk about the ethical problems that accompany invading someone’s privacy. He does not cast anything in terms of good or bad, right or wrong.

Of course, Mr. Biderman’s moral ambivalence at this security breach is inescapably necessary. After all, his whole company is devoted to encouraging and enabling that which is deeply immoral. Thus, his only recourse to denounce anything is legal. But when the technicalities of legality displace the standards of morality, humans are left with nothing but depravity. For humans will inevitably bend the law to satisfy and justify their own desires – even when those desires are categorically evil. Legislation cannot fix – and very often has trouble even restraining – human sinfulness.

Third, Mr. Biderman’s characterization of what has happened to his company in strictly legal terms aside, what has happened to Ashley Madison does represent a supreme moral irony. Ashley Madison is a company that has built its reputation and fortune on deceit – on providing people a way to cover up their sexual dalliances. Now, a group calling themselves the Impact Team, who some security experts have suggested may be a group of insiders, has deceived the masters of deceit by managing to hack into Ashley Madison’s most sensitive information. Deceit has been laid bare by deceit. And what the hackers will do with this information next is the source of great apprehension.

Whatever comes of the hacked data, this much is sure: Ashley Madison needs to change their slogan. They may tell you “life is short” so you can “have an affair,” but when your spouse catches you, the havoc you will have wreaked in your marriage won’t feel short. It’ll feel like an eternity. And that’s why you ought to think long and hard before you log on to Ashley Madison. Because if you do, you won’t. And that would be good.

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[1] Dino Grandoni, “Ashley Madison, a Dating Website, Says Hackers May Have Data on Millions,” The New York Times (7.20.2015).

[2] Wilborn P. Nobles III, “After hackers expose cheaters, AshleyMadison hookup site offers ‘full delete’ option,” The Washington Post (7.20.2015).

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. 2015 In Review | Pastor Zach's Blog  |  January 4, 2016 at 5:22 am

    […] The website for Ashley Madison, which advertises itself as a service to help people have affairs, is… and the data of 37 million of its members is […]

    Reply

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