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Risqué (Brand) Business

Last month, Ashley Madison – the dating website for people who are
already married – learned a valuable lesson: provide what your brand
promises or be prepared for public relations disaster. Given the
delicate nature of their cyber services, Ashley Madison clients believed
their data was safe. In fact, some clients were expressly promised
anonymity via an ingenious yet extra scummy option: the “full delete.”
While the site free to join, a $19 fee is required if one wants all
record of one’s information removed. But guess what? Last month, a team
of hackers known as the Impact Team exposed Ashley Madison’s failure to
keep their brand promise – and the ongoing public relations crisis has
been in the news ever since.

Threatening to release the
illegally obtained 37 million client names to the highest bidder, a reprehensible act of blackmail, certainly caused quite a few individuals to start shifting uncomfortably in their seats as they anticipated (and still do) the public outing of their infidelity. But the
hackers also exposed an unexpected brand failure: the “full delete” information had not been
fully deleted. That’s right: the 90,000 or so former clients who together had paid $1.7 million to Ashley Madison last year to ensure their anonymity actually paid for a service that the brand failed to deliver. Calling it a profitable scam, the Impact Team claimed that the deletion process only
hid the accounts from the public eye, while the company continued to store the
information privately. To prove their point, the hackers then released the
information of one man who attempted to delete his info.

Many people seem very apathetic on the topic, feeling that
the cheaters’ immoral actions deserve to be revealed. Pushing the moral debate to the side, this really is another prime
example of online security and privacy issues. Just because someone may agree with the hackers’ apparent moral stance doesn’t excuse an invasion of privacy – especially one that a brand specifically promised to protect. 

My questions are: Does anyone deserve to be exposed?
When did it become the public’s job to inspect and judge a person’s love life
as faithful or unfaithful? When did infidelity warrant complete deprivation of
privacy? And when a brand who profits based upon promising complete privacy is exposed like this, can any amount of PR management undo the damage and restore faith for the future?

Personally, I do not
approve of cheating, but I also do not approve of overstepping someone
boundaries for my beliefs. Further, I don’t approve of brands not providing what they promise. As the importance of online security continues to grow with the digital age, Ashley Madison shouldn’t be excluded from either side of the conversation just because
its primary use doesn’t sit well with people.

~ Alyssa Doherty, Summer Associate, The S3 Agency


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