Ashley Madison hack: Privacy becomes extinct

Story highlights

  • The massive hack of Ashley Madison by Impact Team may be an extinction-level event for privacy as we know it
  • Jeff Yang: Given how easy it is to get people's personal data, when are we going to care about privacy?

Jeff Yang is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal Online and contributes frequently to radio shows, including Public Radio International's "The Takeaway" and WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show." He is the co-author of "I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action" and editor of the graphic novel anthologies "Secret Identities" and "Shattered." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Scientists theorize that about 65 million years ago, a huge asteroid smashed into our planet, causing vast waves to course across the oceans, igniting runaway wildfires and sending plumes of ash into the air that blotted out the sun, bringing on an endless winter. The result of this event — Jurassic World notwithstanding — was the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the end of one of the most vibrant and exotic species of life on Earth.

Well, if you'll excuse the metaphor, the massive hack of the online adultery marketplace Ashley Madison by the aptly named Impact Team may be an extinction-level event for privacy as we know it.
The initial consequences were bad enough. Once the names were exposed to the world, it was revealed that thousands of public figures were among its paid members, including disgraced reality TV star and conservative family values icon Josh Duggar.
    But the ripple effects of the breach are likely to be far greater. That's because in the wake of the hack, enterprising coders created online tools that allowed anyone to search their network of email addresses to check if their friends, family, partners and spouses used the website.
    Jeff Yang