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Ashley Madison Cheats On Ukraine

The Ashley Madison adultery website has millions of subscribers, including some in Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The Ashley Madison adultery website has millions of subscribers, including some in Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Of all the revelations emerging from the Ashley Madison hack, which is the most scandalous?

A) That some 37 million subscribers to the service, which helps adultery-inclined adults find each other, were caught with their pants down when their identities were revealed?

B) The suggestion, made in a pair of number-crunching analyses, that virtually none of the subscribers were women?

C) That of all the nations around the world, Canadians can lay claim to being the most adultery curious?

D) None of the above

The best answer is, arguably, D.

Despite all the juicy details that emerged after an anonymous hacker last month released nearly 30 gigabytes of data on Ashley Madison, including subscribers' e-mail addresses and confidential information, Ashley Madison's worst sin could be that the cheaters website recognizes Crimea as a sovereign entity.

Millions of readers already know this, but of the 53 locations subscribers can choose from while setting up their profiles, Crimea is the only one that is not a country.

It is one of the more interesting aspects of a process that lists "bald" as a hair color option, "zaftig" as a body type, and "anything goes" as a limit to what the subscriber will consider doing.

Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 in a move that has been condemned and not recognized by the international community, is conveniently listed as a location option in the Russian language.

Likewise, Ukraine can be found on the scroll-down list in Ukrainian.

Crimeans, alas, will have to be able to pick out their location in the English language.

Once signed up, subscribers can tweak and perfect their profile, and can choose Russian, Ukrainian, and English among the numerous options in the languages-spoken category (no Crimean Tatar).

Crimeans who got this far can now begin their search for like-minded locals by searching for matches within a proximity of 500 miles, or by choosing specific locales.

One of the two options is clear -- Sevastopol, the port city. But Ashley Madison confuses matters further by listing the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as a second choice. Autonomous Republic of Crimea is the official status granted to Crimea as part of Ukraine. Following Crimea's annexation, it was rebranded as a federal district of the Russian Federation.

So, what exactly was Ashley Madison trying to achieve by recognizing Crimea?

Was it trying to please a powerful customer base of fiercely nationalistic Crimeans? This theory does not make sense, seeing as a search for "an attached male seeking females" aged 18-65 throughout the peninsula garnered a mere eight potential mates.

Was the service seeking a middle ground that would not rattle its Russian and Ukrainian subscribers? Neither Russia nor Ukraine feature on Ashley Madison's "global infidelity map" of top cheating countries, so it would seem there would not be much to gain (or lose) through the measure.

Was Ashley Madison simply trying to get on the right side of the Russian authorities?

There were reports in the immediate aftermath of Russia's annexation of Crimea that Duma Deputy Anatoly Sidyakin had asked the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service to check in on Google and other foreign media outlets to ensure they were labeling Crimea as Russian territory. Sidyakin's initiative, which would have forced such outlets to change how Crimea was depicted on maps and text for Russian users, never took hold.

But Google Maps and Google Earth have nevertheless made alterations to the border between Crimea and mainland Ukraine that would appear to be in line with Sidyakin's idea.

The Russian version of Google Maps, for example, clearly shows Crimea to be part of Russia, underscored by a continuous, black line to demarcate the border.

Outside Russia, Google Maps shows the entire Crimean Peninsula (with the exception of Sevastopol city, which is considered a separate entity by Russia) surrounded with a solid, red line. The border with mainland Ukraine is depicted with the dotted line normally reserved for disputed areas such as the Palestinian territories.

Unfortunately, questions to Ashley Madison went unanswered, making it a mystery what the service might have been thinking.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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