Are you going to search for an S.O. in the leaked Ashley Madison data? (Photo: Ashley Madison)
Hackers published online 9.7 gigabytes of data that identifies some of the nearly 40 million users of the website late on Tuesday (Aug. 18), according to news reports. (Though, the data can only be searched for with a specialized browser, Reuters reports.) The leaked info includes names, email addresses (including a startlingly high number of government-affiliated email addresses), phone numbers, addresses, passwords, and even physical information like height and weight, according to The Hill. Wired explains how you can go about searching for the info here.
Already, there have been reports of people going on to find their exes — or current S.O.s — on the site. BuzzFeed News reporter Ellen Cushing, for instance, wrote about her experience searching for — and finding! — the identifying info of an ex-boyfriend among the leaked data.
Two summers ago, I’d found out he’d cheated on me with a woman he’d met online. It seemed like if anyone I knew was among the millions of people whose email addresses were exposed by the hack, he’d be it. Anyway, muscle memory and morbid curiosity make for quite the cocktail. Of course, I was right.
Inevitably, you’ll fall into one of three general camps when it comes to this leaked Ashley Madison info — the first being users of the site wanting to see if their identifying information has been exposed, says psychologist Guy Winch, PhD, a Yahoo Health advisory board member and author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts.
In the second camp are “people drawn to gossip and scandal who will spend hours searching for current or ex-partners as well as their middle-school nemesis, the neighbor down the hall who who doesn’t recycle properly, and their annoying colleague in the adjacent cubicle,” Winch tells Yahoo Health. These sorts of people likely search for information in order to feel empowered and “above” the people whose secrets they discover (whether they admit it to themselves or not).
But in the third camp “are people in relationships who have trust issues or reason to be concerned about their partner’s fidelity, hoping for quick relief as opposed to the devastating validation of their suspicions,” says Winch.
Of course, you don’t have to have relationship red flags to be tempted to check on your S.O. in the leak. There are people who are more paranoid or jealous than average, and who generally feel mistrustful or anxious. So “when presented with information that, content-wise, can fit their anxiety, they will go there,” says psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, a Yahoo Health advisory board member and author of Becoming Real: The Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back. “Maybe their partner isn’t doing anything, but they easily imagine that there is some sort of betrayal going on. Those are the people who could definitely be stoked to be looking, even though there’s no reason to be looking.”
But to Winch’s previous point, some people may be tempted to check for their partners or ex-partners in the Ashley Madison leak because of trouble in their relationship. Maybe there’s “secretiveness, or there’s been a past affair, so there’s already sort of a loss of trust,” Saltz tells Yahoo Health.
But not everyone who senses something is amiss in the relationship will look — and they may even feel “afraid” to look, Saltz says. There are those who may not want to rock the boat, who are fine with what they have, and maybe even have a fair amount of denial about any problems.
And then of course, there are those who are not interested in looking at all because they don’t think anything is going on — they have no reason to distrust their partner. For these people, “it could mean you are very secure in your relationship,” though she warns that it’s not a foolproof litmus test that everything is A-OK between you and your beau. “You could know there are [red-flag] signs, but choose not to acknowledge them,” she says. “It may still mean you’re secure in your relationship, but your security is more based on feeling in control of whether you stay or go, and you’re just choosing to stay.”
If you’re tempted to look, Saltz encourages you to think about what your plan of action will be if you find the worst-case scenario. “It’s like a medical diagnosis — don’t take the test or the quiz unless you have some thoughts of what you’ll do with the information,” she says. So if you feel suspicious that there may be something there and you decide to look, you have to decide if you that means this is an irreconcilable betrayal or you might be willing to try to make things work. Otherwise, you’ll just set yourself up “for a cycle of anxiety.”
Have a personal health story to share? We want to hear it. Tell us at YHTrueStories@yahoo.com.