- - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Halos slip. Every fallen angel knows that. The ordinary man has enough smarts to set it aright if he can, and promise himself to behave next time. Bein’ good, as Roberta Flack sang of preachers’ sons, isn’t always easy. The titillating revelations of Ashley Madison, a website for secret cheaters — “Life is short. Have an affair” — demonstrate that boudoir cheating has gone technologically big time. Adulterers may be the last sexual adventurers still in the closet, understanding that even in a “progressive” era that prides itself for letting go of the old values and homely virtues, fidelity can’t be cast aside without someone paying a price.

Cheaters may not prosper, but a website arranging their assignations has, collecting millions of dollars from customers of both sexes looking for adult entertainment beyond the bonds of monogamy. With the news that hackers had made off with the confidential client records of a Toronto company, Avid Life Media, which operates the Ashley Madison website, hysteria flowers in many a household. The stolen data included names, personal email addresses, home addresses and intimate sweet nothings. Two subsequent data dumps by the Internet bandits have brought the number of exposed accounts to 37 million. That means lot of red-faced cheaters and an equal number of blue spouses coloring the marital landscape.

Titillation became tragedy when two people “associated” with the leaked customer records took their own lives. It’s not yet clear whether the dead were the transgressors or innocents transgressed against. This was not what Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman promised. His company, along with its associated firm, Avid Dating Life, could be forced to pay dearly for the breach — of security, not of promise.

Class-action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the customers whose personal information was exposed. One plaintiff said she paid an extra $19 to have her data scrubbed from the website but it wasn’t scrubbed. Ashley Madison argued that release of the data does not necessarily prove their clients did anything wrong. But inference alone has destroyed many marriages.

The hackers, who call themselves the Impact Team, say they did the deed because Ashley Madison created fake profiles of women to lure male customers. More likely, they did it because hacking is what hackers do. Using the Internet to pull off a guilty caper, as many have learned, is not smart. Internet security is never fail-safe. Credit-card numbers are easily swiped. Target alone has lost more than 100 million email addresses. Why should anyone imagine that sensitive information can remain forever private on an electronic network penetrated every day by mischief-makers?

Like other virtues, fidelity is most deeply felt in the absence where all hearts do not grow fonder. If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud over the Ashley Madison debacle, it’s that wedding vows still matter.

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