Recently we looked at the  Ashley Madison hack, in which about 32 million accounts of people who signed up for partners for extramarital affairs were dumped onto the Deep Web—and are now being converted into more easily searchable files.

Deep Web? Or Dark Web? Breathless news accounts sometimes confuse terms. Let’s start with the Dark Web. From PC Advisor: 

… a term that refers specifically to a collection of websites that are publicly visible, but hide the IP addresses of the servers that run them. Thus they can be visited by any web user, but it is very difficult to work out who is behind the sites. And you cannot find these sites using search engines.

Although the Dark Web, which requires special encryption tools, is used for criminal activities (Silk Road for illicit drugs, for example), not everything about it is criminal. Internet users trapped in totalitarian societies may find it their only safety.

Now for the Deep Web: It

… refers to all web pages that search engines cannot find. Thus the ‘Deep Web’ includes the ‘Dark Web’, but also includes all user databases, webmail pages, registration-required web forums, and pages behind paywalls. There are huge numbers of such pages, and most exist for mundane reasons. More

Our banks protect our passwords on the Deep Web. Our health care systems should protect our medical data that way.

Another term one hears is Dark Internet. Despite the Frite Nite name, it is “a boring place where scientists store raw data for research.”

So the Deep Web is simply web pages that are not picked up by searchbots and indexed for search, for a variety of reasons, fair or foul. And that is where the Ashley Madison trove was stored, until various scavenger hunts brought data out into searchable files.

The hackers are liable to criminal charges in Canada (parent company Avid Life Media is Toronto-based), and could face ten year to life. But depending on their location, they may not be extraditable. That is one of the many issues Internet traffic creates in a global economy.

It’s too early to paint the fallout in broad brushstrokes, but here are some early indicators:

Checking up on a spouse could expose a person to criminals. The Toronto police offer a warning: 

“Criminals have already engaged in online scams by claiming to provide access to the leaked websites,” he said. “The public needs to be aware that by clicking on these links you are exposing your computers to malware, spyware, adware and viruses.”

– Also according to Toronto police, “The initial release of personal information of the site’s more than 30 million users has resulted in a multitude of ‘spinoff” crimes,’ though they wouldn’t elaborate.”

(That’s possibly because most of these crimes did not occur in Toronto, thus Toronto police do not have jurisdiction—and they would not make anything public before the force responsible does.)

– There are two reports of suicide as a direct result of the hack, but they are as of this writing (August 25, 2015) unconfirmed.

– Reports of personal ramifications are beginning to appear::

Military members could face consequences: Adultery is against the Code of Conduct for members of the armed forces. CNNMoney could not independently confirm the legitimacy of the thousands of military email addresses leaked as part of the hack, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said the Pentagon is investigating.

Meanwhile, one woman explains how the hack ruined her life.

– Religious figures Sam Rader and Josh Duggar were found to have accounts.

– Yesterday, Wired revealed information that suggests another possible motive for the hackers—besides moral outrage, anger at the number of fake female accounts, fun, or career-building with the security industry (= hire us; we know how hackers really do it): In late 2012, the online mag asserts, Ashley Madison’s then chief technology officer hacked a competitive dating site,, grabbing the entire database. Might this hack be revenge?

Wired reports that just before the Ashley Madison CTO’s hack against, another hack had targeted Grindr, a dating app aimed at gay and bisexual men. But that did not appear to bother Avid CEO Joel Biderman, who likes to pose with or in double beds:

Despite an awareness of ALM’s own vulnerabilities, CEO Biderman saw the downfall of competitors as an opportunity to promote himself and his business. “It would be huge if we could get me on as a commentator on this,” Biderman wrote after Snapchat was attacked in 2014.

– Customer service is currently in meltdown at Ashley Madison, and it appears doubtful that the firm can survive.

– Avid Life Media is offering CDN$500,000 for information on the hacker(s).

What will this do to other dating apps and sites like Tinder and Grindr?:

Grindr, launched in 2009, is a dating app which is focused on the gay community which uses location-based GPS to find someone local to hook up with. It has around 10 million users. Tinder, launched in 2012, is another location based dating app that has a gimmick to swipe right if you want to get to know the person in a picture or swipe left if you’re not interested. It has around 50 million users.

Their fate probably depends in part on how important users consider fidelity to be. Last May we learned:

Casual and anonymous sex arranged via social media sites, such a Tinder and Grindr, has led to an increase in STDs across the US state of Rhode Island, health officials have announced. The Rhode Island Department of Health announced that between 2013 and 2014, there was a 79% increase in syphilis, a 30% increase in gonorrhoea and a 33% increase in HIV. Gay and bisexual men were most at risk of infection, while African-American, Hispanic and young adults were also impacted to a greater extent.

But there is reason to believe that among single gay and bisexual men, for example,  fidelity often isn’t a key goal. Thus a hack revealing infidelity may simply not be as embarrassing. On the other hand, these dating sites may be the worst place to look for honest and trustworthy people, hence the soaring disease rate…

And generally, as Dr. Helen recounts at PJ Media,  

“I think that iPhones and dating apps have really changed the way that dating happens for our generation,” says Stephanie, the one with an arm full of bracelets.

“There is no dating. There’s no relationships,” says Amanda, the tall elegant one. “They’re rare. You can have a fling that could last like seven, eight months and you could never actually call someone your ‘boyfriend.’ [Hooking up] is a lot easier. No one gets hurt—well, not on the surface.”

Again, recall that the Ashley Madison hack was embarrassing precisely to the extent that the members were in traditional relationships. In the world of Whatever, such relationships no longer seem meaningful, possible, or worth pursuing,

Thus I think, unfortunately, that the other sites will do just fine, despite the occasional debacle. But we shall see.


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...