Data Privacy, Security, and the Ashley Madison Hack
In many ways, the Ashley Madison hack represents a turning point for discussions of data, privacy, and security. Historically, consumer victims of security breaches have not been successful in suing companies that experienced data security lapses. Courts generally view the business as the victim, and the consumer as not adequately “harmed” to bring a lawsuit. But the narrative of breaches is shifting, as high-profile breaches such as Anthem, Ashley Madison, and Sony, show that people can be deeply embarrassed by release of non-financial-related data. Further, the information leaked in the Ashley Madison case forces us to look beyond privacy and the individual, as being named in a sensitive dataset can not only reveal information about one person, but reveals info about other individuals and relationships. Finally, the discourse and rhetoric around Ashley Madison as a site for “cheaters” tends to flatten an otherwise diverse terrain of possible users and invites us to reconsider the important relationship of privacy to the development of intimate and sexual connections between people.
Chris Jay Hoofnagle is a lecturer in residence at UC Berkeley Law and an affiliate faculty member at the School of Information. He has taught computer crime law, privacy law, and internet law. Chris is the author of Federal Trade Commission Privacy Law and Policy (Cambridge University Press 2016).
Anna Lauren Hoffmann is a faculty member at the School of Information working at the intersections of information, technology, culture, and ethics. Her research considers the ways in which the design and use of information technology can promote or hinder the pursuit of social justice.
Toshiro Nishimura (MIMS '15) is a Research Analyst at Cloudmark. His blog post titled “Does Blackmailing Pay? Signs on the Bitcoin Blockchain of Responses to Ashley Madison Extortion Emails" has been cited by several major news outlets reporting on the controversy.