P082: Ashley Madison and Modern Transparency

Before I dive into this week’s piece, I just want to address a few ideas that are true but totally tangential to my main point:

  • Love comes in all shapes in sizes
  • Monogamy isn’t for everyone and is kind of a tool of the patriarchy, when you really think about it
  • Not everybody who used Ashley Madison was “sneaking around”

Now then, a clinical description of where we find ourselves today: Ashley Madison is/was a website that facilitated extra-marital affairs between ostensibly consenting adults. It was recently hacked but a group called Impact Team, who threatened to release the stolen data unless Ashley Madison’s parent company took down the site, and one other affiliated service. The sites remained up and so the data was released and hooooo boy this is going to be A Thing.

Inasmuch as I’m 100% disinterested in Who Deserved What, let’s take a look at John Herrman‘s Early Notes on the Ashley Madison Hack:

If the data becomes as public and available as seems likely right now, we’re talking about tens of millions of people who will be publicly confronted with choices they thought they made in private. The result won’t just be getting caught, it will be getting caught in an incredibly visible way that could conceivably follow victims around the internet for years.

The entire business model of Ashley Madison was predicated on discretion. But as we’ve seen time and time again, there is no such thing as discretion when there are relational databases involved. As Paul Ford wrote when the hack was discovered:

No one should offer up their private information to a giant centralized service that helps them achieve secret sex goals. But tens of millions of people apparently did. Because they were told, and believed, that their information would be handled securely.

We have reached a moment when it’s safe to assume that everything we do in a computer is available to at least someone. The Circle is complete. And while it’s easy to throw shade at people who are looking for a side piece, something something glass houses, stones, whatever. Our secret lives, our inner desires, our true selves are hidden away in these machines and that data can come bursting free at any moment. This has always been true but more and more people are understanding it every day.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron