Almost immediately after a team of hackers unleashed loads of data online about millions of users of the infidelity dating website Ashley Madison, websites began popping up that allowed people to easily search through the data deluge to determine whether someone they knew had an e-mail address included in the leak. Ashley Madison managed to get some of these sites, such as checkashleymadison.com, taken down with DMCA notices, but others are popping up, that offer to provide searchers with even more information about the infidelity site's users.
A new site makes it simple to search an Ashley Madison user's e-mail address, phone number or username to gain access to their address, birthdate, profile information and credit card transactions. We've decided not to link to the site to protect the privacy of Ashley Madison users, but this is what it looks like. As you can see, it's covered in ads, so whoever runs it will profit from the site's traffic.
It was only a matter of time before these kinds of search sites began cropping up, but they raise serious questions about privacy in our digital era. People are uncovering friends, lovers, colleagues and family members in the leak data. As my colleague Kashmir Hill pointed out, massive collections of data that can be pillaged and then published gives the average internet user a power that was once reserved for the surveillance state. Hackers made public the intimate details of Ashley Madison users' love lives, but we are the ones entering the search terms and seeking those details out.
I tried to get in touch with the person who started this site, but have not heard back. (I checked the site against leaked data, though, and the information its searches return is indeed real.) The site is clearly an attempt to monetize our desire to snoop: it encourages people searching to do things like "monitor his phone calls" and "track his movements" alongside ads for products and services that could help a suspicious searcher do just those things.
With time, more and more information from the hack will likely become easily searchable. But perhaps the greatest privacy violation here is not the leakage of information, but our own insistence on looking through it.