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Dear Ashley Madison: Shut. It. Down.

An open letter to the online adultery site from someone who is totally not a member. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
An open letter to the online adultery site from someone who is totally not a member. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Dear Ashley Madison,

I am writing to express my shock and dismay at the recent data breach that reportedly led to the seizure of highly personal information from millions of your clients.

It is my understanding that this data could include not just client names, addresses and credit card numbers, but also risqué photos and detailed accounts of their sexual fantasies. More or less a hacker’s dream.

These hackers in particular -- who refer to themselves as the Impact Team — are threatening to release this info unless Ashley Madison shuts down.

Who in God’s name do you expect to sign up for your service at this point? It would be like hiring a convicted embezzler to balance your checkbook.

The Impact Team claims to be furious because your website charges folks 20 bucks to delete their profiles — which feels a bit like extortion, if you ask me — but also because they say that you can never entirely delete a profile, a claim that sounds pretty legit coming from a bunch of sophisticated hackers.

Before I go any further, I should clarify that I am not writing this letter on my own behalf, because I am happily married. In fact, I was unaware your site even existed until yesterday, when my friend (let’s call him “Josh”) called me in a panic.

It is on Josh’s behalf that I am composing this missive. He is understandably concerned that sending a letter from his own email address, under his own name, might expose him further.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not alone in pointing out something quite basic, which is that you are putting the happiness of millions of men, women and children in jeopardy here by not shutting down.

Can you imagine what it would be like for your millions of users to have the most private of their desires made public?

Yes, I realize we’re living in a de facto surveillance state in which our every movement (online and off) is monitored by marketing geeks. But how is a man supposed to face his wife — or his children, or his church congregation — when all those hot, sickening fantasies involving Katie Couric, a confessional booth and Smucker’s grape jelly have been released to the public? And what about the awkward, illicit selfies?

As a reminder: I’m asking for Josh, who is obviously not ecstatically married, like me.

I suspect that you have a pro forma defense for this accusation. Namely, that you don’t urge anyone to commit adultery. No, you merely facilitate their willingness to cheat by promising discretion. After all, it’s not like your corporate slogan is Life is short. Have an affair.

OK, scratch that. I just did a little research. That does appear to be your slogan, something I wouldn’t have known because (again) I had no idea your site existed, owing to my insanely awesome marriage.

Your founder Noel Biderman insists that “no website or 30-second ad is going to convince anyone to cheat.”

But if that’s the case, you guys sure are wasting a lot of money concocting controversial ad campaigns predicated on convincing lonely spouses — 70 percent of them male, as I understand it — that they can enjoy a risk-free fling.

What you’ve done, in essence, is to monetize adultery. You’ve led us down the path of temptation by trumpeting false promises, as well as posting fake profiles of really hot women who never seem available for an afternoon rendezvous. As per Josh.

So howzabout you do the smart thing here and find some other human weakness to prey upon?

Oh, and I failed to mention one other ominous fact: Adultery is illegal in more than a dozen states. In liberal Massachusetts, where Josh and I both happen to live, breaking the Seventh Commandment is a felony, punishable by up to three years in jail.

Of course, I realize that appealing to your basic decency is rather foolish given the nature of your enterprise.

So let’s just think about this situation from a financial perspective. Your entire business model has been torched by this scandal. Who in God’s name do you expect to sign up for your service at this point? It would be like hiring a convicted embezzler to balance your checkbook.

So howzabout you do the smart thing here and find some other human weakness to prey upon?

I know that Josh and others like him — and unlike me — would be very grateful.

Signed,
Steve Almond
(Josh’s Friend)

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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