Out and about in the Ashley Madison hack

There is nothing subtle about the website Ashley Madison, which acts as a hook-up site for married consenting adults whose trademark motto is, “Life’s short. Have an affair.”

And the Impact Team, the anonymous hackers who breached the Ashley Madison site and published emails, credit card information, and personal data from the 39 million users of the site, were equally upfront about their motives.

“Find yourself in here? It was ALM [Avid Life Media, the Ashley Madison parent company] that failed you and lied to you,” the group said on the dark web site where they made two information dumps totaling more than 30 gigabytes of data, if you care to tie up all of your computer’s free space to catch a cheating spouse. “Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you’ll get over it.”

What’s not so black and white is how mainstream media deal with the titillating trove of data that, while a major security breach of a billion-dollar company, is also potentially exposing embarrassing but certainly not illegal acts of millions of people. But that’s why the story is getting so many clicks. It’s doubtful the breaches of Target or Home Depot drew anywhere near the leering looks.

The data cannot be accessed through normal browsers. A user has to have a BitTorrent-compatible browser and knowledge of how to access and navigate the peer-to-peer sharing networks. (If you don’t know how to do it, we’re certainly not going to help.)

Most media outlets are declining to publish any of the data or put any direct link to it in their stories, citing both ethical and legal concerns. But many are scraping the data to find news hooks for stories to keep the clicks alive.

The Boston Globe has been running Associated Press stories about the hack while offering a piece about the conundrum facing publishers. In western Massachusetts, The Republican found the municipal email address for former Chicopee mayor Michael Bissonnette, who confirmed he logged onto the site in 2010 while he was not married.

Boston magazine’s Garrett Quinn scoured the data and found at least five emails from City Hall and another from the police department, as well as some from suburban government sites, among the client list. He also totaled up the most prominent communities represented in the list and found Boston, unsurprisingly, leading with nearly 49,000 users followed by Watertown with more than 10,000 and Somerville with 7,100. Suffice to say there will be a number of tense dinner conversations in those cities over the next few days.

But the magazine also made it a point that if anyone wants specific information, they’re on their own.

“For ethical reasons, Boston magazine has decided to not reveal the identities of the users of the site,” a note at the bottom of the story read.

Reporters culling the list have found more than 15,000 email addresses for government and military personnel, revelations that have triggered a government probe about misuse of public resources. The New Orleans Times-Picayune found the email for the head of the state Republican party, who said he had an account as a matter of “opposition research.” That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

Some of the online news sites such as Gawker and Wired have no restraints in revealing the information; after all, that’s their raison d’ etre in many respects. Gawker exposed reality TV star Josh Duggar as a paid client of Ashley Madison. Duggar, part of the “19 Kids and Counting” show on TLC, was recently named head of the conservative family-values lobbying group Family Research Council, which made for some snickering everywhere and showed why there’s never any cameras at Mensa meetings.

Some legacy outlets, such as the Washington Post, don’t direct readers to the actual data but offer links to hastily launched websites where you can plug in an email address or a name and find out if it is in the Ashley Madison database. Unfortunately for those who may have a cheating heart but little compunction to act off it, the information isn’t always accurate.

Perhaps the Ashley Madison slogan needs to be expanded. “Life’s short. Have an affair. Keep it to yourself.”




State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg is urging University of Massachusetts leaders to reconsider an increase in student fees while UMass Vice President for Communications Robert Connolly said the school could reverse the fee hike if the Legislature acts on a supplemental budget bill under consideration. (WBUR)


A report by the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development finds there are at least 100 families above the income limit, including one family with a household income of more than $200,000, living in New Bedford public housing despite a waiting list of more than 1,200 qualified applicants. (Standard-Times)

Quincy’s planning director says his demotion by Mayor Thomas Koch after he was approved to work reduced hours because of health reasons is politically motivated and only the City Council has the authority to replace him. (Patriot Ledger)

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter and his police chief will meet in New York with Police Commissioner William Bratton to discuss gang unit strategy and ShotSpotter, the electronic shot detection system used in the City of Champions and parts of New York as well. (The Enterprise)


The Boston Globe argues that the Brattle Report highlights the need for IOC to deal with the problem of financial risk that the Games pose for cities interested in bidding on the events.


Donald Trump packs a historical punch. (Boston Globe) Meanwhile the Globe’s Adrian Walker considers the beating of a homeless man by two Trump admirers.

The reassessment of the presidency of Jimmy Carter begins. (Talking Points Memo)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to put a lid on women in Times Square exposing their breasts with little more than body paint covering them. (New York Times)

The FDA warns Ohio not to illegally import execution drugs, noting that the Department of Rehabilitation Correction would be breaking the law by making an overseas purchase. (Governing)


The coming Joementum? (Political Wire)

A look at Rand Paul‘s plan to buy an election. (U.S. News & World Report)

Deez Nuts is running third in a Public Policy Polling survey of North Carolina voters behind Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (New York Times)

Jeb Bush defends the term “anchor babies” to describe children of illegal immigrants born in America and points out another GOP candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, became a citizen that way. (National Review)


Competition from around the country and Canada and a reduced demand for cranberry juice are squeezing local growers, although an increase in dried snacks and flavored water are keeping them from getting bogged down. (Standard-Times)

Rhode Island State Police say there is still an ongoing criminal investigation into the state’s $75 million deal with 38 Studios, the now-defunct gaming company owned by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, despite a recent settlement. (Associated Press)

Facebook’s co-founder Dustin Moskovitz argues that the hard-driving culture of the tech industry is a “culture artifact.” (USA Today)


Because of a change in government regulations and an error in the application submitted by officials, Wareham high school students will no longer receive free lunches. (Standard-Times)


The federal government has moved from regulator for health care plans to one of the private insurance industry’s biggest customers with the creation of Medicare managed-health plans and the passage of the Affordable Care Act. (U.S. News & World Report)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he is open to continuing to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion if the federal government grants the state increased flexibility in shaping its health-care programs. (Governing)


Chatham selectmen back off trying to control skydiving flights at the municipal airport. (Cape Cod Times)

The North Adams Airport Commission aligns its rules regarding drone flights with federal regulations. (Berkshire Eagle)  Meanwhile, the Washington Post obtains FAA records that detail hundreds of close calls between drones and airplanes.

Looking to privatize bus routes, the MBTA plans to test the appetite among private bus companies to provide service on all of the express bus routes, the lesser-traveled routes in Boston and the suburbs and late night service. (State House News)


The Bay State’s aging gas lines are plagued by leaks. (Boston Globe)

The drought in California is costing about $2.7 billion this year, according to a new UC Davis Study. (Governing)


A Boston police officer is facing charges after authorities say he assaulted a woman during a domestic altercation. (Associated Press)


The MetroWest Daily News comments on the perils of the Sesame Street-HBO deal.

Count Keller@Large among the legion of Patriots fans not impressed with ESPN‘s midnight, one-time only apology for repeating a long-discredited Spygate-related story.