Gastonia, NC Correspondent-I’m in the “media business” and an issue that is always at the forefront of our minds when we’re breaking a big story is sourcing. How many times have you seen BuzzFeed, TMZ or some other news-ish site “break” a sensational story that later turns out to be inaccurate, if not completely fabricated? Single-sourcing of news items is what makes this happen. It’s the equivalent of the neighborhood gossip hearing that the preacher is fooling around with the church secretary and running door to door to tell the neighbors without finding out that, in fact, the church hasn’t HAD a secretary for months.
In the case of something like the Ashley Madison hack, the issue becomes even more twisty, because we have multiple layers of sourcing. You’ve seen every news source in the known universe report on this hack, with some gleefully looting the name lists for locally and nationally prominent names.
But bear one thing in mind: In the end, this, too, is a single-sourced report. One hacker group claims to have breached the Ashley Madison site, and that group has spoon-fed us what it claims is the data taken from the site.
However, on the other side we have the reaction of the company behind Ashley Madison, which immediately went into damage control mode, sacking all those involved and essentially issuing a universal mea culpa for the breach. This would seem to indicate that what the hackers claim is true, and I would even argue that the company’s reaction could stand as a second source.
But should the media use this information? Look at the case of Mark Sanford, the once-disgraced South Carolina governor (now inexplicably elected to the House of Representatives) who claimed he was off walking the Appalachian Trail while he was in fact in South America shacking up with his mistress. He did so on state time, and was unreachable by his office, thus derelicting his duty as governor.
Some of the Ashley Madison accounts were created on and accessed by government email accounts. That’s news, and should be reported. Should the rest be made public, simply to satisfy our prurient curiosity? I’d say no, but then you’d all suspect my name is one of the ones in the list.
Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-With the recent hacking of this controversial Canadian dating and social networking site (Ashley Madison), users and subscribers are wondering what the outcome will be concerning the public release of subscriber names that occurred in August of 2015.
Prior to the August release of customer data, hackers, known as “The Impact Team,” attacked the site and proceeded to take it down due in part to Ashley Madison’s neglectful and lax security procedures, which involved the site’s shaky policy of not deleting subscriber’s personal information once it was invoiced and processed. The Team’s nefarious demands included stealing information concerning the subscriber base and threatening to release private subscriber information, sexual fantasy declarations, site searches, credit card numbers and other data. Coercion was also used to extort money from subscribers who had engaged in affairs and were being intimidated with the release of information to husbands, wives, family members and significant others.
Since Ashley Madison’s platform is based on their motto, “Life is short. Have an affair,” and promotes emotionally charged adulterous arrangements and other illicit liaisons, saddled with hefty financial site use and payment obligations, it was only a matter of time before the site’s operation would lead to invasive hacks and outcries for exposure and closure. Ashley Madison’s questionable advertising practices, iffy security, and assurances to its potential subscribers that, “We GUARANTEE that you will successfully find what you’re looking for or we’ll give you your money back,” are being scrutinized by Canadian law officials and others. In fact, hacking into a private computer is a crime and with the servers being in Canada, Criminal Code 342 was violated, as were a number of privacy laws and the actual blackmailing of the site by the hackers.
With the site’s money back guarantee to “find someone,” an expensive package of so-called goodies (paid chats, expensive priority messaging, Ashley Madison gift giving, etc.) is part of the site’s platform, which few if any subscribers are able to fulfill, plus the site caters more to men seeking provocative connections and charges them more in fees for initiating partner contact. Those wanting to use the services of the site are not made aware of the various conditional guarantee qualifiers, expenses, fake messaging, fictitious female profiles, deletion options and the disparity of partnership choices. Customers have felt the heat from the site in their pocketbooks, legal entanglements and bruised psyches.
It is no wonder that legitimate forces hostile to Ashley Madison desire to terminate and expose the site, and there are legal means to divulge illegalities and improprieties without destroying and endangering subscribers. No media outlet should be allowed to harness and gain access to personal records, as well as credit card and financial information. Lifelong repercussions of such releases fragment lives and family relationships.
In order to alleviate site deficiencies and illegal tampering, Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life media, is currently offering a 500,000 Canadian money reward for information leading to the Ashley Madison hackers. In addition, its founder and CEO, Noel Biderman, has resigned to avoid further harm.
As far as what should be done, no online company, whether proclaimed as a dating or social networking site, has the right to misrepresent its services and endanger the security of its customer records. Layered and monitored security must be an inherent given with any such site extracting personal and financial information. Customer information cannot, for any reason, be allowed to be released or compromised. The solutions involve site integrity, spelled out fee and obligation structures, customer base protection, and a legally formatted platform that has checks and balances within its operation. Obviously, in the case of a disreputable site and its questionable platform and fees, the solutions almost always have to be legally challenged to muddle through a site’s infractions, and in August 2015, a $576 million class-action lawsuit was filed against Ashley Madison. Site closure and return of subscriber funds should, of course, be part of any negotiated settlement.
Ashley Madison’s site platform, its operation and easy access serve as just another example of a morally and unethical internet escape that eventually takes a turn for the worse and causes horrendous outcomes for its subscribers and itself. Without strict and lawful control over unsavory sites, users and subscribers held captive by insatiable needs will continue to frequent them. Immorality coupled with intrigue always sells but not to the betterment of anyone. The quick pathway to morale decline advances on its merry and destructive way, and Ashley Madison has served its illicit purpose.