I’ll admit. I wasn’t feeling too sorry for the men and women with accounts on Ashley Madison and whose information appears to have been stolen and then posted online for the world to see. The Web site was a meeting room for people who wanted to cheat on their spouses.
Hackers have apparently published the personal and financial information for up to 40 million members of the dating site created to help people look for partners to have affairs, reported The Washington Post’s Andrea Peterson.
Dump away, I thought. They deserve the ridicule and exposure.
But Michael E. Miller, the Morning Mix reporter for The Post, makes a good point about our collective gloating. It’s them this time. Next time, it could be you and your Social Security number or banking account information.
This is not a case where the ends justify the means because it’s another reminder of how vulnerable we all are. And because so much of our financial business is accessible through the Internet, we shouldn’t be pleased by what happened. We should be afraid. Very afraid.
“Before you celebrate your comeuppance over less ethical friends and colleagues, consider this: The Ashley Madison leak is about a lot more than the public shaming of philanderers,” Miller wrote. “Above all, it’s about Internet privacy.”
Take the case of military personnel, Miller points out. Cheaters could lose their pensions if they receive a dishonorable discharge. “Although the leak itself appears to be a moral vendetta, it could lead to individual cases of blackmail as people comb through the information and spot co-workers, neighbors or acquaintances,” he wrote.
Okay, I’m no longer grinning. People’s financial lives can be ruined for something that may not be our business.
Color of Money Question of the Week
Is there such a thing as good hacking? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and town. In the subject line, put “The Financial Impact of the Ashley Madison Hack.”
Live Chat Canceled. But Stay Tuned for a New Feature Next Week.
I’m taking off this week to attend MegaFest in Dallas, hosted by Bishop T.D. Jakes. I’m on a financial panel. So no chat this week.
But I’m back live next week. And I’m also going to try something a little different. Following the chat, I’ll be live-streaming on Periscope. I’ll recap some of the best questions from the discussion and take some new ones from Periscope users. So if you haven’t signed up, please do, and follow me @MichelleSingletary. I look forward to you joining me.
Don’t Threaten Your Debt Collector
Here’s a man-bites-dog type of story.
Sure, debt collectors can be abusive, and there are laws to discourage bad behavior. But you also don’t get to be threatening.
Michael M. Murray of Columbus, Ohio, received a letter from the Department of Education demanding that he pay his outstanding student loans, according to a release from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas.
“Murray responded by tearing off a portion of the letter that contained his name and address and writing threats and obscenities on it. He placed that response in the DOE’s self-addressed return envelope, wrote ‘Osama Bin Laden’ as the sender, put white powder inside of it, and mailed the envelope from Columbus for delivery to DOE’s loan processing center in Greenville,” according to the release.
“There are smart ways to protect yourselves from bad student loan servicers or debt collectors — you do have rights! But committing a felony isn’t one of the tactics you should choose,” wrote Christine DiGangi of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
So it’s federal prison for Murray — and he still has to repay the loans.
Several big companies have announced plans to provide more paid parental leave. Some have questioned whether fathers will feel the freedom to take advantage of the benefit.
But it’s not just dads who may be reluctant to take family leave.
Jena McGregor, who writes for The Post’s On Leadership section, wondered whether some employees would be too afraid to take too much leave for fear it could hurt their careers.
“An unlimited policy sounds great in theory,” McGregor wrote. “Unless the culture really supports it, however, employees won’t know how to react and may even end up taking off less time than they otherwise would.”
So for last week’s Color of Money question of the week, I asked:
What do you think of the extended parental leave, and would you be afraid to take it?
Tiffany Beeler of Oakland, Calif., took as much leave as she could and wished she had had more. “I returned to work in April after a high-risk pregnancy and a problematic surprise delivery in December, and although I was off for 16 weeks it wasn’t enough time,” she wrote. “I had six weeks of baby bonding time remaining, which I needed, and although it was difficult to come back to work, I had no choice. I was unable to utilize the time because it was unpaid. Extended parental leave would have been a DREAM and in my opinion would have made me a FAR better employee because I don’t feel that I would have had to be so concerned with scheduling time to leave early and/or come in late for doctor’s appointments for both the baby and myself, I could have alleviated things such as Post-Partum Adjustment/Depression, as well as would have provided me more time to adjust to being a ‘working mom.’ ”
“I wish extended leave was available when I had my daughter in 1984. I would have definitely taken six months,” wrote Ruth Wilson from Rochester, N.Y. “I think having a child in daycare at three months is horrible.”
Thomas J. Druitt of Paducah, Ky., a frequent commenter, argued that people who take extended leave may find themselves replaceable. “I would advocate that they voluntarily limit their absence from their jobs to relatively brief periods of time that last no longer than their usual vacation leave. Catching up on two to three weeks of developments that took place during one’s absence is a whole lot easier to accomplish than is catching up on six to nine months of developments. After all, while the individual taking leave is absent someone else in the organization will be doing their job in their place. The employer might discover that the ‘substitute’ performed the assigned tasks just as well, maybe even better. If so, you will have lowered your own value to your employer, who might previously have thought he/she could not get along without you.”
Scott Fossum from Texas felt the same. He wrote: “I am judged by yearly goals that take the entire year to achieve. If I am not present, I cannot complete the goals. It would take multiple years to catch up, and the missed opportunities are missed forever. No, I would not take extended parental leave.”
I thought the no group would be mostly men. But Andy Oden of Issaquah, Wash., broke from the pack. He wrote: “As a father of three, YES, I would be grateful for paternal leave, and I would take it without hesitation. If my job is so insecure I couldn’t trust my employer to stand by our covenant, then I need to find a better employer. When our third child was eight months old, I happened to be between jobs for about three months and still count those months with my son as some of the best years as a father, and wish I’d had the same time with my other kids.”
Ann Eleanor spoke for the single and childless men and women. “I’m retired, never had kids and understand the logic behind parental leave not as a feel-good policy but to avoid the costs of hiring and training replacement employees as many parents don’t come back to work,” she wrote. “But, as a single person with no kids, it was like I was less important than other female employees. When co-workers had their first child, I also gave them a handmade blanket. When I got my dog, not even 1 box of dog biscuits. I couldn’t even take her to work on ‘Bring your daughter to work day.’ Yes, I know she was a dog and not a child, but she was very important to me.”
Linda G. spoke for a lot of workers, I would imagine. “When I first saw the “six, nine or even twelve” I thought it referred to WEEKS, not months. Tells you what our mind-set on leave is. That aside, this is once again likely to be a perk only truly available to higher-paid employees. Those of us in the rank and file ($50K and under) can’t afford to take that long off without pay and are more likely to be replaced. Until it is mandated and funded, it’s wonderful to read about and a pipe dream for most.”
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to washingtonpost.com/business.