I am part of the Ashley Madison hack. Luckily, there are a number of websites that can help me and millions of other users understand how badly our privacy has been breached.
"YOU HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED," the website Trustify blared in shouty capital letters after I entered my email address in its search box.
Trustify is a startup that connects users with private investigators. The company states on its website that business is booming right now, though it also expresses disappointment there are so many unfaithful spouses out there.
"Our daily caseload has increased 15x so far, and nearly every single new case since August 18 has been related to the Ashley Madison data," the website states in part.
It seems I'll need an expert who "knows where to look and has access to special databases unavailable to the general public," if I want a full report.
I could pay $67 to get started and a detective will be assigned to my case. Trustify advertises Ashley Madison reports at $199 for a "comprehensive review about what personal details had been made available" — all delivered to my in-box within 72 hours.
Some sites, such as haveibeenpwned.com and ashley.cynic.al, offer the info without the sales pitch.
My email address is on all of them.
However, I don't need these tools to tell me I'm on the list.
A few years back, while my guileless partner was away working, I opened an Ashley Madison account. Breathlessly, I entered my email address, made up a screen name and started my hunt.
Maybe the full report will reveal that I checked "anything goes" on the drop-down menu of the startup screen that asks for my "limits?"
"Looking for characters for a documentary" didn't appear to be one of the options.
Ashley Madison is curiously set up. It's free to "wink" at people to show you are interested. Winks led to connections that led to emails where I revealed I was a researcher.
That always killed the mood.
Range of motivations
The documentary did not happen, but that's not to say the research went to waste: I also had the perfect excuse for being on Ashley Madison years later.
What I found is that people on this website are humans, and like all humans, they have a range of motivations.
There was the guy who loved his wheelchair-bound wife, who signed him up.
Then there's the jerk who sent me naked photos even after he found out I was a journalist.
"What's a nice journalist like you doing on a site like this …" he wrote in a private message to me.
This hack won't end my relationship, cause me to commit suicide or pay someone to tell me just how bad it is.
It will make me question the ethics of hacking, further my distrust of anyone's ability to control anything online and wonder, "Who else is on there?"
The question that needs answering is why people are signed up. No website, tool or hack can give us that context, and without it, the information is basically meaningless.