A class action lawsuit worth a total of C$760 million (£367 million or US$576 million) is being brought against infidelity dating website Ashley Madison. The lawsuit stems from recent high-profile data leaks, in which the personal information of many of the site’s users was made available on the “dark web.”
Ashley Madison is a highly controversial dating website, which specifically targets married users who are looking for affairs. The controversy has not been lessened by its marketing messages, which are anything but coy about the nature of the site. It uses the slogan “Life is short, have an affair,” and has aired television adverts which featured a number of men cheerfully singing the words “I’m looking for someone other than my wife.” The company’s adverts have also been criticised on other grounds, such as denigrating women, and in some cases have been pulled as a result of high volumes of complaints.
Despite the moral question mark that many see hanging over the nature of the site, it has proved very successful across the world. It has 37 million users from over 50 countries, including over a million in the UK.
It was the controversy surrounding the site that led it to become the target of Impact Team, a group of hackers. This group obtained data about the site’s users including names, home addresses, email addresses, and message histories from the site’s private messaging feature. They then threatened that, if the site was not taken down, they would reveal this information and publicly expose the infidelity of the site’s users. The site remained operational, and the data was leaked online.
The lawsuit is being brought against the site’s operating companies, Avid Media and Avid Dating Life, by Canadian law firms Sutts, Strosberg LLP and Charney Lawyers. The firms claim to be bringing legal action against Ashley Madison on behalf of “all Canadians” who were caught up in the data leaks.
In a statement, the two forms said they had been approached by “numerous former users of AshleyMadison.com” with enquiries about their rights to privacy under Canadian law.
“They are outraged,” the statement continues, “that AshleyMadison.com failed to protect its users’ information. In many cases, the users paid an additional fee for the website to remove all of their user data, only to discover that the information was left intact and exposed.”
While social media has seen a lot of public support for the data leak, others have criticised Impact Group. Not all critics of the leak are supportive of Ashley Madison’s infidelity dating model, as the nature of the attack raises complex concerns about individual privacy rights and vigilantism.