An Ontario man who was once registered on AshleyMadison.com, an online dating site that promotes infidelity among married people, paid the company to delete his profile a couple of years ago.
Imagine his surprise when he found himself one of two registrants whose personal information was leaked earlier this week by hackers who have threatened to disclose sensitive customer data if the site doesn't immediately shut down. The hackers also outed another man who lives in Brockton, Massachusetts.
"I haven't been on the site in a long, long time," the Ontario man, who lives in Mississauga, told the Toronto Sun in a story published on Friday, noting that he never actually used it to cheat on his wife of 20 years. "It is a stupid (website). You go just to see what is out there. It was pretty much a waste of time... to join."
He said he had paid $19 to have his personal data erased from the site, and was utterly shocked when his name was released by the hacking group known as the Impact Team to illustrate that the info it had collected from the site was genuine. It appeared that the company had evidently kept his information in some form despite his having paid for its "full delete" service.
The Impact Team broke into the website on July 19 and released a manifesto complaining specifically about the "full delete" feature, calling it a profitable scam. The hackers accuse the company of keeping the purchase details, real names, and addresses of customers after they had paid to have their information erased.
"Full Delete netted ALM $1.7 million in revenue in 2014," the manifesto read, referring to Avid Life Media, Ashley Madison's Toronto-based parent company. "It's also a complete lie."
"Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn't deliver," it went on. "We've got the complete set of profiles in our DB dumps, and we'll release them soon if Ashley Madison stays online. And with over 37 million members, mostly from the US and Canada, a significant percentage of the population is about to have a very bad day, including many rich and powerful people."
ALM would not answer questions about the full delete feature following the initial leak, and it was not available to respond to a VICE News request for comment after the Toronto man's interview was made public. A PR firm representing the company said that it could not answer direct questions.
The company went into damage-control mode after the hack, releasing a statement on Monday assuring its customers that it was taking "every possible step toward mitigating the attack."
With 37 million members, Ashley Madison is the most high-profile dating site marketed to cheating spouses ("Life is short. Have an affair."). It boasts over 124 million visits a month and operates in 30 languages.
In addition to Ashley Madison, ALM operates sites such as CougarLife.com, a site "for women looking to date younger men," and EstablishedMen.com, a "service that connects young, beautiful women with rich, successful men."
The hackers issued an ultimatum earlier this week.
"Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers' secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails," the group said. "The other websites may stay online."
ALM called the hack, which was first reported by the online security blogger Brian Krebs, an act of "cyber-terrorism," and promised to hold the hackers accountable.
"We're not denying this happened," ALM CEO Noel Biderman told Krebs. "Like us or not, this is still a criminal act."
The Ashley Madison site has long been a source of controversy for its blatant promotion of adultery. Given its business model — discretely facilitating affairs among married people — the site's data is particularly sensitive.
' We are the Impact Team '. pic.twitter.com/IDGpvPnH1m
— Thadeus Zu (@deuszu) July 20, 2015