Paying $20 to delete your Ashley Madison profile was probably a bad idea

Earlier this week, Ars got an e-mail from a reader named Rob Plant. “I think most right-thinking people have been dismayed by the tactics of charging for picture take downs—what is worrying to me is that these practices now seem to have been taken up by more legitimate websites.”

Ars has long covered the scourge of “revenge porn,” in which seedy websites post revealing photos of unwilling people and then charge those victims a fee to take the photos down. But Plant was writing about a site called Ashley Madison, which markets itself as a dating website for married people to find accomplices in extra-marital affairs. (Its slogan is blunt: “Life is short. Have an affair.”) The website has been around since 2001, and although it's taken some guff for allegations that it populates its network with fake profiles of women, it still boasts 29 million users worldwide, most of whom are presumably not fake.

The way it works is this: Ashley Madison allows people to sign up for free with "Guest" accounts, which permit users to send and receive photos and “winks.” Guest accounts can also reply to messages sent by a member. To become a "Full Member," one must buy credits, as opposed to, say, paying a monthly subscription. Full Members can initiate messages and chats with their credits, and women can send messages “collect." After first contact (and guidelines of the Prime Directive permitting) messages between the two users are free.

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A Winky Face Emoticon Is Not Enough: Man Fined for Facebook Comment

In Switzerland, a judge sentenced a young man to pay a fine for a comment he made on a social network. According to news reports, he felt he didn’t receive a sufficient number of birthday congratulations from his 290 friends on the social network. He posted a comment that roughly translates to, “Is no one happy about my birthday? (…) I am going to destroy you all, you will regret it, now no one can protect you… pow pow pow.” He later explained that it was obviously meant as a sarcastic comment and not intended as a death threat. The judge did not see the humor in the comment and sentenced him to pay a fine.

This is just the most recent case of many alleged fake threats that have been posted this year. Others have received much higher penalties, like a teenager in Texas who spent five months in prison after posting “an alleged threat on Facebook.” Comments that can be perceived as threats can quickly generate a costly response from local authorities.   

Remember that a winky face emoticon is not enough to show that you are joking—law enforcement does not view threats as jokes and they are not treated as such. It’s wise to think twice about what you post on your social network, including both pictures and comments.

Content on social networks can spread very quickly. For example, earlier this year, another hoax chain mail made its way around a popular smartphone application. There were multiple versions of the hoax and one of the messages was a computer-generated voice that said, “Send this message in the next 20 minutes to 20 friends or you will be dead by tomorrow.” Hopefully, this was viewed as an obvious hoax and simply ignored and deleted by any who received the message. However, this instant messaging service is very popular among teenagers. Many students were frightened and forwarded the message in fear of the threat. In Germany, the hoax took off like wildfire and reached enough under-age individuals that the police started to warn people about the hoax message.

It is important to think about the consequences of anything that is posted online. Keep in mind that an off-color joke can be perceived as an actual threat. If you have doubts about what to post, it may be better to err on the side of caution (or post a cute kitten picture) – or better yet, hold off on posting anything questionable at all.

Monday review – the hot 17 stories of the week

OK, these aren’t just the hot 17 stories of the past week, but of the two weeks before that, too.

If, like us, you’ve been enjoying some downtime over the Christmas and New Year holidays, here’s your quickest way to get back up to speed with Naked Security…