When hackers released personal information of users of infidelity site, Ashley Madison, the world paid attention because the data was released to the public. You’ve been told that the hackers had an ethical stance, but the truth is that the hackers objected to Ashley Madison’s parent company’s offer to delete user data for $19, but the hackers discovered the data was not permanently deleted, warned the company that user data would be released if they didn’t make good on their promise (and they didn’t, so the hackers followed through).
We saw many people make jokes on social networks about real estate industry leaders that will be exposed, and one person even proposed they start a betting pool regarding who will be exposed as a cheater.
So, we actually looked at the database
We dug into the data that was released by hackers and should start by saying that a user of the site is not the same as a paying user. While it could be said that most users are smart enough to use a non-work email to register and pay for a site that pairs cheaters (unlike the 15K+ government employees and 40+ White House staffers), the number of users in the real estate industry was nowhere near as prevalent as the jokers online likely assumed.
We looked at all users and uncovered that on AshleyMaidson.com, there are zero registered Realtors.org emails, two registered Realogy.com emails, one Zillow.com, 13 Realtor.com, 194 KW.com, and 195 remax.com emails.
We only reviewed these extensions as a means of sampling, not as any scientific study. But what of paid users? There were far fewer accounts in the industry that had actually paid to actively use the site – only one Realogy.com email user, 11 remax.com, and 10 kw.com users. That’s it. No one at Zillow, NAR, Trulia, or Realtor.com showed up in the list of paying members.
In the data dump, there are 31 million non-paying members, and 4.1 million settlement transactions (payment receipts), to the numbers above represent an extremely minute portion of that overall number.
In truth, anyone can sign up using someone else’s email address, so take the non-paying member data with a grain of salt. That said, you can’t fake credit card information that is attached to a mailing address and verifiable IP address.
It’s an ugly, complicated situation, this mess of dirty laundry. People have made endless jokes, but Ashley Madison’s parent company’s refusal to actually delete data and ignore hackers’ warnings, has led to numerous lawsuits, ruined lives, and even suicides.
For that reason, we will not be releasing the names of the users, because what they do in private is no one’s business, and the hackers never intended to make an ethical stand (although that’s how it has been taken by uninformed journalists).
Our nation is obsessed with scandals, so this is no different, but we would like to assert that the real estate industry is not as scandalous as outsiders might think (even if government employees are).
And for those that are judging others for websites they use, just remember that your browser knows your weird search history, your internet service provider knows what sites you’ve visited, your computer is potentially tracking everything you type (online or offline), your phone’s microphone and camera might be listening and watching, and privacy doesn’t really exist.
Story updated to include remax.com email user counts.