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Victims of the Ashley Madison hack speak out

Dan Savage advises the 'marks' and 'morons' caught wanting their pants down.

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Q: Please do a public service announcement about the Ashley Madison hack, and request that no one look up information on anyone other than their own spouse. I'm a former AM user. I've been married to my wife for 20 years. We met when we were both 20 years old. Seven years ago, I made a selfish decision to have an affair, and five years ago, my wife found out. She hated me for a while, but we worked things out. I have been faithful since then, and our marriage is better than ever. Since my wife already knows everything, I have no worries about her finding out. But what about every other person I know? It is mortifying to think about my colleagues or my wife's family poring through my profile information. I'm going to assume the best—most people have the common decency not to snoop into their neighbors' bedroom habits—but it would be great if you could ask people to respect other people's privacy. —Really Enraged Guy Requesting Everyone's Tactful Silence

A: I'm happy to back you up, REGRETS, but I don't share your faith in humanity. Most people are only too delighted to snoop into their neighbors' bedroom habits—particularly when doing so induces feelings of moral superiority. And I like to think the kind of puritanical busybodies who would go looking for names in the Ashley Madison dump are unlikely to be readers of mine, so they wouldn't see my Ashley Madison PSA anyway.

But I have to disagree with your suggestion that people should look for their spouses' names in the AM data. If someone in a shitty, high-conflict marriage needs an excuse to get out—because no-fault divorce isn't good enough for them—OK, sure, that person might wanna search for their spouse's name. But people who are in loving, functional, low-conflict, happy-ish marriages might want to think twice. Finding out that your spouse cheated—or fantasized about cheating—is impossible to unknow, and it's something many people can't get over. Caveat coniunx.

Q: I'm one of those morons who had an Ashley Madison account. But for me, and probably for many others, AM has been a strong antidote to the urge to cheat. Spending some time on AM taught me the following: (1) I'm nothing special—there are millions of other men looking for the same thing, and most of them are younger and better looking. (2) The women on AM are nothing special—the few who even bother chatting with you are often looking for money, and your wife starts looking damn good by comparison. (3) The whole thing is basically a scam to separate horny middle-aged guys from our wallets. And it doesn't even have the relatively honest sleaze of a strip club. —Ashley Madison Mark

A: There's no way to tell the difference between an Ashley Madison member who came to his (or her) senses before cheating, like AMM here, and a member who fucked a dozen other people—or, for that matter, a member who had a good reason for being on the site . . .

Q: I'm one of the men caught in the Ashley Madison hacker net. But as pissed as I am about the bullshit—the company's lies about the security of its site, the hackers' self-righteous moralizing—I can attest to the fact that one can get what one is looking for on that site. Yes, there were a lot of fake profiles. Yes, there were a lot of pros. Yes, there were women looking to steal your identity. Seriously. But once you figured out the game, you could find a lot of real women on that site who were looking for someone to spend time with. I'll be pissed if I get busted as a result of all of this, but joining that site helped me reclaim my sanity after a sexless 25-year marriage. —Don't Attack This Adulterer

A: Slogging through the Savage Love mail for the last 25 years has convinced me of this: Some married people have grounds to cheat. Men and women trapped in sexless or loveless marriages, men and women who have been abandoned sexually and/or emotionally by spouses they aren't able to leave—either because their spouses are economically dependent on them (or vice versa) or because they may have children who are dependent on both partners. It would be wonderful if everyone who felt compelled to cheat could either negotiate an open relationship or end the one they're in now, but there are cases where cheating is the least worst option for all involved.

Now, I don't know the particulars of DATA's marriage—why it's been sexless for so long, what the damage is—but if seeking sex elsewhere allowed DATA to stay sane and stay married, and if the marriage is otherwise affectionate and low conflict, and if DATA's wife didn't want to see her marriage end, DATA may have done her a favor by getting on Ashley Madison. Loyalty isn't something we can demonstrate only with our genitals.

Q: I'm an Ashley Madison user in an open relationship with a bi woman. I can assure you that a large number of AM users—hundreds of thousands—are also in open relationships. The hackers made no effort to distinguish between adulterers and people in consensual, honest relationships. They are smearing thousands of people as adulterers who are much more honest in their relationships than the average person. —Healthy Openness Not Egregious Sexual Trysts

A: The hackers also made no effort to protect Ashley Madison members living in countries where adultery is punishable by death. Along with all the cheaters, wannabe cheaters, and people in honest open relationships, HONEST, the hackers exposed hundreds of people living in Saudi Arabia—some of them gay. Do the people out there saying AM members are getting what they deserve realize that some are going to get their heads cut off?

Q: I am a data-security attorney. One important point that seems to be missed by those celebrating the Ashley Madison hack is that while cheating is not illegal, unauthorized hacking is. While some may find cheating morally reprehensible, it is not so morally reprehensible in this country that there are laws prohibiting it (anymore)—it's not even a misdemeanor. On the other hand, hacking into someone's system and accessing data without authorization is considered so morally reprehensible that we have state and federal laws against it. Also, there are state and federal laws that apply to sites like Ashley Madison around properly securing their data and not making promises about security or handling of data (such as whether data is deleted). It will be interesting to see what actions, if any, may be taken against the site. I predict this is just the start of attacks against sex-oriented sites. —Who Is Next?

A: Almost everyone has posted stuff online anonymously, has privately shared pictures and fantasies, and has a browser history that could screw up their lives if that info were dumped into a searchable database that named names. The people celebrating the Ashley Madison hack might have more sympathy for the victims—the fantasizers and the cheaters—if they contemplated their own vulnerability. We are all one malicious hack, one lost cell phone, or one vindictive ex away from the kind of exposure and humiliation and, in some cases, the kind of ruin that the AM members are facing today.  v

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