Startup takes heat over online tool that checks Ashley Madison data

Trustify was accused of spamming email addresses that showed up in the leak

A small Washington, D.C.-based startup accused of crude marketing centered around the Ashley Madison data breach said Monday it is changing its tactics amid criticism.

Trustify, a 10-person company that launched in March, runs a web-based service for connecting people with private investigators for $67 an hour.

Last week, it created an online tool that lets people check if their email address was in the large dump of stolen user information from the extramarital hookup site.

The tool was one of many that were created after hackers released information on more than 30 million registered users of the website, one of the largest and most sensitive data breaches on record.

Trustify’s approach rubbed some people the wrong way. The tool allowed people to enter an email address, and the site returned an answer on whether the address was part of the breach.

It was intended to only be used by people with their own email address, said Danny Boice, founder and CEO of Trustify, in a phone interview Monday. But people quickly started checking email addresses for other people.

Trustify did not send a verification email to the address that was being checked before it returned information. Perhaps even worse, Trustify sent marketing emails to those addresses that were entered, which some critics labeled as spam.

An example of an alert email from Trustify posted on Twitter read that “we confirmed that your details were exposed." It went on: “Talk with our experienced investigative consultants to learn how you can find out what incriminating information is available and could ruin your life.”

The approach posed multiple problems. It has been theorized that some people registered with Ashley Madison actually used others' contact details.

That means some people whose information was improperly used might have received a notification from Trustify when they hadn’t actually registered with Ashley Madison. It’s a conversation someone probably wouldn’t want to have with their significant other.

Boice is straightforward about the tool, which has now been taken offline pending improvements, including email verification.

“We are a company that’s doing marketing,” he said. “We are very clear about our intentions. We are a for-profit business using this for lead generation.

But Boice acknowledged the concerns, which is why the tool was taken offline for a while. It is now back up. The company has also posted a Q and A on its website addressing some of the criticism.

"As the usage patterns changed beyond what we intended it to be used for, we started to realize all of these different scenarios," he said.

Trustify didn’t anticipate the tool to be used so much, Boice said. It was engineered to handle just a few hundred queries, but at one point was getting as many as 500 queries a second, he said.

Trustify's business has surged since Ashley Madison's data was released, he said. The company has more than 3,000 private investigators who have signed up to the service to match them with clients, Boice said.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?