I realise I am presenting an unpopular view here, so if you post to disagree, at least do me the courtesy of reading the post first, paying particular attention to my own experience stated at the start.
There’s been a lot of furious debate about this on the internet already. Betrayed partners feeling there is some justification to the act while others have queried the motivation of those electing themselves our moral guardians in hacking a site, blackmailing the owners to shut down and then releasing the data.
As my regular visitors know, my ex-wife cheated on me in early 2011 after less than 2 years of marriage. By the time our second anniversary came around later that year, it was over. She had been cheating on me over the internet with somebody who lived in another country. She did not meet him until roughly spring 2012.
In Summer-Autumn 2011, about the time we were going through therapy, I opened an account at Ashley Madison in a desperate urge to find potential evidence that this may not have been a one off. I no longer trusted her so my opinion of her had become so low that even the possibility she would be actively looking for one night stands on Ashley Madison was not a possibility I could discount.
Which brings me to my first problem with this hack.
Not Everybody on Ashley Madison is a Cheat
If we leave aside the grey area that they have the intention of cheating but have not yet done so, we have two other groups of people here: i) people who did exactly what I did (looking for evidence of a partner they believe/know to be betraying them and to eventually use it as ammunition) and ii) people in open relationships who have the blessing of their partner to be on the site. Both groups have legitimate reasons for being on there and are not cheating, let alone in the black and white terms presented by those rubbing their hands with glee at the cheats getting caught out.
Hacking, Blackmailing and Releasing Personal Details is Illegal
I have little to worry about, my account closed in 2011, something like 3 days after I opened it. I never made a paying transaction and the email address I used is now defunct. However, had I used any existing email address, people will now have access to my real name and address – and that makes me uncomfortable; there remains the possibility that I could be identified as one of the site’s users. People have had their legal right to privacy violated, and all three of those things that the hackers have done is illegal. Illegal is much further up my chain of things to be morally indignant about than any act of betrayal by one spouse against another.
Two Wrongs Do Not Make a Right
No, they don’t, and nor should they ever. These people have elected themselves our moral guardians and have used illegal tactics to do so. We’d all be up in arms if this had happened with Love Honey, Match.com or even Amazon. Identifying that the people who are the target of this are doing something wrong (and as identified above, not all of them will be) is irrelevant to the fact that this was illegal. We can acknowledge that Ashley Madison is providing an incredibly distasteful service, and their users deserve some degree of bad karma, but we can also acknowledge that the hackers have not fulfilled a public service in their illegal acts and have not acted out of altruism.
EDIT: People are killing themselves over this.