“Life is short. Have an affair,” is the popular slogan for the Ashley Madison matchmaking website for cheating spouses. Hackers disagreed.
This week they made good on their threat to expose adulterers using the site, dumping more than 30 gigabytes worth of subscribers’ personal data onto the Internet. The leaked data, which potentially impacts more than 35 million member accounts, includes credit card information, e-mails, physical descriptions and sexual fantasies.
Internet memes have sprung up targeting the spouses of Ashley Madison users and media websites are combing over the data and outing high-profile individuals, such as reality-TV star Josh Duggar, who confessed to having affairs through the site.
Canadian celebrities have so far been spared, but hundreds of e-mail addresses in the data release appear to be connected to federal, provincial and municipal workers across Canada, as well as to the RCMP and the military.
Things don’t stop there. A $760-million class action lawsuit has been launched by two Ontario firms against the company’s Toronto-based parent ─ Avid Life Media Inc. — on behalf of Canadian users, whose information has been compromised.
Toronto firm Charney Lawyers is spearheading the suit, asking for wronged parties to come forward and join the class action.
An award of damages ranging from $2,500 to $25,000 per case is expected, depending on the nature of personal information leaked and the personal circumstances of plaintiffs, says principal lawyer Ted Charney.
Bigger awards are warranted when the released data results in significant damage to one’s family life, career and reputation. The class action is the only suitable legal recourse for affected users, says Charney, adding that individual lawsuits will be too costly and burdensome.
When it comes to Internet hacks, privacy laws are at their infancy in Canada, he claims, stressing: “There are not many cases.”
In the Ashley Madison case, the class action will include claims for breach of contract and a relatively new privacy tort.
Intrusion upon seclusion came out of an Ontario case in 2012 ─ someone’s bank records were accessed 174 times without authorization. The Ontario Court of Appeal described the tort as follows:
“One who intentionally [or recklessly] intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the seclusion of another or his [or her] private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the invasion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.”
Ashley Madison has a contract with subscribers ensuring complete confidentiality and privacy. Due to the hack, users’ information did not remain confidential, which gives rise to a breach-of-contract claim.
In Ontario and many jurisdictions, there are also consumer protection laws that penalize companies that make false representations. Charney sees a claim here too, since “complete confidentiality” has turned out to be a misrepresentation.
The outcome of this suit will likely have a significant impact on the development of privacy laws in Canada.
Life is short. Have more discretion online.