When I first downloaded a copy of the hacked database dump from the Ashley Madison adultery-oriented dating site, I naturally checked if anyone I know had been naughty. When that didn’t pan out, I tried to think of something fun I could do with all that data.
Then over at The Big Questions economist Steve Landsburg posted what he called “The Ashley Madison Test of College Faculty Cluelessness” in which he ranked 33 top colleges according to how many of their faculty used their work email addresses to register at Ashley Madison.
…feel free to use these rankings as a measure of your college faculty’s average cluelessness, at least when it comes to maintaining anonymity over the Internet.
I thought that was an amusing way to poke fun at academia, and since I occasionally cover legal issues, I figured that I could do the same for law big. So here’s a list of email domains from Vault’s list of 100 most prestigious law firms to work for in 2016, ranked in order by the number of times email addresses with that domain appear in the Ashley Madison data dump:
Since this post mentions 100 freakin’ law firms, I should probably include a few clarifications:
There are reasons unrelated to adultery for having an account at Ashley Madison. Journalists, for example, have created Ashley Madison accounts while writing stories about the service. (Since I’ve considered writing posts about Ashley Madison in the past, I thought I might have created an account. It turns out I didn’t.) Similarly, employees of law firms could have created accounts as part of the investigation of a legal matter. Or they may just have been curious.
It’s also important to note that Ashley Madison does not verify email addresses, so these accounts need not have been created by any real person at those law firms. They don’t even have to be real email addresses. The email addresses in the Ashley Madison database could have been put there by literally anyone on the internet. (This is why I’m not posting individual addresses.) Some lawfirms have purchased short high-prestige domains, and people entering random letters for a made-up email address could easily hit on them by accident.
Furthermore, there’s a chance that this is not the real data from Ashley Madison. It’s possible I found another fake data dump. This post is based on data listed at The Pirate Bay, and this time I was more careful, so I think it’s the Thursday dump everyone’s been talking about, but I could be wrong. And even if it is the dump everybody’s talking about, there’s no guarantee that it’s really from the Impact Team hacking group, and even if it is, there’s no guarantee that this data actually came from Ashley Madison. As I write this, they have not confirmed its authenticity. However, the lack of vigorous denials makes me think this is probably the real thing.
[Update: A PR representative for one of the law firms pointed out that many of the email addresses are obviously fake, and some of them are duplicates. I had already explained that Ashley Madison does not verify email addresses, but in case the implications of unverified email were not getting across to readers, I have changed this post to put greater emphasis on implications of unverified email. Furthermore, I have replaced the names of the firms with the domain names from the data dump to make it clear that the email addresses are not necessarily valid email addresses at those firms. I also re-wrote the database query to crush out duplicate email addresses, which changes some of the counts and rankings. Finally, I changed the tone to more clearly indicate that this post is intended for amusement.]