The Ashley Madison debacle claimed its latest victim today, yet another man who meant no harm and who had the utmost confidence in the promised privacy of the extramarital hookup site.
That would be CEO Noel Biderman, who resigned a week after hackers released the identities of 37 million alleged Ashley Madison account holders on an unsuspecting world, a data breach that has resulted in an international investigation, lawsuits, widespread embarrassment, and some of the more disturbing statistical graphics we've seen in a while. (As for the predicted uptick in divorce filings...presumably that graph is being pieced together right this second.)
It seems like only yesterday when Ashley Madison, which has been around since 2001, was just this upsetting idea you heard about in a commercial on basic cable during that @midnight time in the lineup when all of the ads seem to be promoting sketchy behavior that requires a credit-card number.
And it almost was. The data breach just came to light a little over a month ago and the hackers only published the data...last week?! Ah, 'twas such a simpler time...
Meanwhile, this scandal shows no signs of slowing down, especially since that data is still being sifted through, sites panning away in hopes of striking click-bait gold. So that you're fully briefed on what everyone at school, work, the gym, your kids' school, et al. is talking about, here's a breakdown of everything you need to know about the Ashley Madison scandal:
How It All Started: Ashley Madison confirmed July 20 that a group of hackers who identified themselves as The Impact Team had breached whatever it was the website had in place to protect its 37 million users' identities, putting said identities at risk of exposure. "We immediately launched a thorough investigation utilizing leading forensics experts and other security professionals to determine the origin, nature, and scope of this incident," the company said in its initial statement. "We apologize for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers' information." The Impact Team, meanwhile, demanded that parent company Avid Life Media shut Ashley Madison and another site, Established Men, down. The hackers also went public alleging that Ashley Madison did not take measures to remove users' credit card info from its database as it claimed to do. The Takeaway: 37 million users?!
Time Marches On: That was kinda the end of that story for a while, maybe more than a few husbands endured some sleepless nights, but... No big deal. The Takeaway: Hmm, maybe the Impact Team isn't so impactful.
Here Comes the Big Deal: Turns out, The Impact Team was just biding its time and getting its technological ducks in a row. On Aug. 18, The New York Times reported that the hackers had dumped 9.7 gigabytes of stolen user info from Ashley Madison and Established Men into a so-called dark space on the Internet. Scandalous! But you need a certain browser, it's really complicated... And who has the time... Oh. The Takeaway: The hackers meant business (and have since dropped 20 GB more).
Why: The Impact Team has indicated that moral outrage—over both the service Ashley Madison provides and its $19 charge to wipe user data from its site, which it allegedly then did not do—prompted the airing of the dirty laundry. They suggested they might do the same to "any companies that make 100s of millions profiting off pain of others, secrets, and lies. Maybe corrupt politicians [too]," they told Motherboard. The Takeaway: Does Marvel need any more Avengers?
AP Photo/Danny Johnston
Gawker Digs In: While different outlets had their own designs on the info, parsing it for zip codes, ages, companies, etc., Gawker Media was first to pluck a celebrity from the swamp. And that was Josh Duggar, another pathetic turn of events for the disgraced 19 Kids and Counting star. On Aug. 19, the 27-year-old father of four was linked to the site, and on Aug. 20, he admitted to cheating and a proclivity for pornography. Forgetting how the internet works, someone posted a statement on the Duggar family's website that included the porn admission and a reference to the molestation scandal that took 19 Kids down in May; within an hour, the statement had been edited to exclude those two things. And yet...the world only remembers the first version of the apology. By Aug. 26, Josh had checked into treatment for undisclosed issues, but this sex therapist had some ideas. The Takeaway: The Internet always wins.
Hypocritical Waters Run Deep: On the footsteps of holier-than-thou Josh Duggar's ignominious moment, it was revealed that Sam Rader, of Christian-values-spouting vlog stars Sam and Nia, had an account as well. Sam admitted to having an account "two years ago" but insisted he never had an extramarital affair, adding that both his wife and God have forgiven him; therefore, he said, "I've been completely cleansed of this sin." The Takeaway: Judge not, lest ye be judged.
People Are Way Too Bored: At least football season is starting again, because the 101 ESPN employee emails discovered on the site (really, people? You cover sports and sports scandals for a living and haven't learned any lessons?) obviously had too much time on their hands. Moreover, the Los Angeles Times reported that 50 current and former employees of the California state government used their .gov work emails to set up accounts, and L.A. County official found 19 county addresses. The Takeaway: Your tax dollars at work.
Wide Open Spaces: Alabamians apparently desire more room to roam. A Reddit user perused the data and, after factoring in population, concluded that Alabama had more paying customers per capita than any other state. West Virginia had the least, although Alaska and New Mexico were the only states that had any zip codes with no accounts. And only three zip codes between them at that. The Takeaway: The big, bad city isn't looking too shabby now, is it?
Reality Bites: Real Housewives of New York City husband Josh Taekman first indignantly denied then admitted to being an account holder, and now his 10-year marriage to Kristen Taekman may be on the rocks. And color us many shades of bummed when Snooki's hubby, Jionny LaValle's name started making the rounds—but the former Jersey Shore star has stood by her man, insisting that he would neither cheat nor would he use a paid site if he were going to cheat. (She then insisted via Twitter that they have a prenup, because she wouldn't want people thinking otherwise about that either.) The Takeaway: GTL is sounding like a pretty reasonable lifestyle choice after all.
WireImage; Getty Images
To Catch a Thief: Because Ashley Madison is a Canadian company, the Toronto Police Service is investigating as part of a task force (called, because why not, "Project Unicorn") with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (and they always get their man!) and the FBI. On Aug. 24, Avid Life Media expressed gratitude to the "international law enforcement coalition" for its ongoing investigation and also offered a $500,000 (Canadian) reward to anyone if they could provide info that led to the arrest and conviction of the "person or persons responsible for the theft of propriety data." The Takeaway: Anyone with info to aid the investigation was encouraged to call 416-418-2040, while anonymous tips were being collected at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images
Muddy Waters: Surely not all 37 million are legitimate accounts. In fact, the hackers themselves stated that a whopping 90 to 95 percent of users are men, suggesting that the majority of Ashley Madison online activity is men flirting with people posing as down-to-cheat women. And some of the people who pleaded ignorance could've had their identity stolen, right? That's what Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden said happened to him, anyway, when his name turned up. The Takeaway: We really want some of the names named to be innocent.
Mass Paper Shuffling: As of Aug. 28, at least five lawsuits seeking class action status had been filed—including a suit in Canada on behalf of an identified plaintiff who claimed he only joined the site after his wife died of breast cancer and never actually met anyone in person—for alleged breach of contract, invasion of privacy and other torts. The Canadian suit is demanding $571 million in damages. The Takeaway: This could get expensive for reasons other than lost business.
Art Reflects Life: A scripted series tentatively titled Thank You Ashley Madison is in the works. But it's for a Toronto-based company so it's about the hardworking mom who starts the site, not the creepers who use it. The Takeaway: Eye roll.
Jane Mingay/Rex/REX USA
Shushed: Avid Life Media announced Aug. 28 that Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman had stepped down. "This change is in the best interest of the company and allows us to continue to provide support to our members and dedicated employees," ALM said in a statement. "We are steadfast in our commitment to our customer base. We are actively adjusting to the attack on our business and members' privacy by criminals. We will continue to provide access to our unique platforms for our worldwide members. We are actively cooperating with international law enforcement in an effort to bring those responsible for the theft of proprietary members and business information to justice." The Takeaway: Ashley Madison still has customers?!
There Could Me More: The hackers told Motherboard in an email exchange that they're still sitting on 300 GB of data, including employee emails and user messages and pics. "1/3 of pictures are dick pictures and we won't dump. Not dumping most employee emails either. Maybe other executives," The Impact Team said. The Takeaway: No dick pics, please.