Cheating Isn’t Cheap

A major dating site was hacked, and it is costing the site and its users more than just money.

Photo by Carl Court (Getty Images).

Millions of men could be heading to divorce court soon, but those in charge at Ashley Madison will be heading to the courthouse for a different reason—to defend what is perceived as complete negligence on part of the website.

Ashley Madison is a website dedicated to connecting men who want to cheat on their wives with available women.  Subscribers can buy a package of credits to message users on the site.  A pack of 1000 credits, costing $250, provides a guarantee that the user will have an affair within three months or will receive his money back.  Originally, if a user wanted to delete his account, he would have to pay $20 to do so.  Since the hack, that cost has been removed.

Hackers were able to obtain a list of over 36 million accounts, some having credit card and address information attached

Earlier this summer, an anonymous group of hackers self-named as “Impact Team” threatened to hack the website if it did not stop its somewhat unethical operations.  Avid Life Media, a Canadian company that owns Ashley Madison, effectively ignored the threat.  The hackers acted on their promise and breached Ashley Madison’s security in mid-July.  With that breach, the hackers were able to obtain a list of over 36 million accounts, some having credit card and address information attached.

This information was made available to the public in August 2015, where anyone could search for an email address to see if it was in the Ashley Madison database.  The biggest name to come out of the hack thus far is Josh Duggar, a conservative known for his role in TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting.”  Many reveled in Duggar’s misgivings, since Duggar had previously been very vocal about his opposition to gay marriage, claiming that it is a sin.

Of course, millions of men are now likely embarrassed and afraid that their private desires will be aired to the public, and worse, to their families.  The hack has ruined marriages, and may be the reason behind multiple suicides.  Naturally, legal action is the next step.

A $578 million class action lawsuit has been filed in Canada against Avid Life Media

A $578 million class action lawsuit has been filed in Canada against Avid Life Media.  Eliot Shore, who is the head of the class action, claims he never used the site to cheat on his wife, but instead used the site to find love after his wife passed away from breast cancer.  After the hack, his family discovered that he had used the website and accused him of cheating on his now-deceased spouse.  Shore denied cheating, and was reasonably upset by the accusations.  He had been under the impression that his information would not be publicly released under any circumstances, and that the breach amounts to a massive invasion of privacy.

Much like the United States, a Canadian class action suit has to be certified by the courts.  Certification “shows the court why the action should proceed as a class action.”  This includes a five-part test where the plaintiff must demonstrate the cause of action, an identifiable class of two or more persons, that common issues are raised, that a class action suit is preferable over multiple individual suits, and that the plaintiff, here, being Eliot Shore, is an accurate representation of the class.  These requirements are very similar to the United States’ requirements to certify a class action.

There is one glaring difference though –in Canada, one does not have to be publicly named when joining a class action, thus avoiding the humiliation of admitting that he was a member of Ashley Madison in the first place.  In the United States, anyone joining a class action must be named.

The suit is still pending certification by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.  If it does receive certification, the suit will then be able to proceed.  Canadian Ashley Madison subscribers will have the option to not participate in the suit and pursue action on their own.  If they choose to remain in the class action, they will receive a portion of any settlement or award won.  If Avid Life is able to escape all liability, the members will receive nothing.

There is one major problem with suing the Impact Team: no one knows who they are

Avid Life claims that it is the wrong defendant in the case, and that this is a criminal matter, not a civil matter.  Avid Life is half right: it is still liable for not properly providing the security necessary to prevent such a breach.  However, the Impact Team is also criminally liable for hacking the website.  But there is one major problem with suing the Impact Team: no one knows who they are.

It is suspected that at least one person on the Team worked for or with Ashley Madison in some capacity in the past.  No progress on discovering the true identity of the Team has been made public, and therefore Avid Life continues to bear the blame alone.

Because Ashley Madison was not limited to Canada, United States users have had their information leaked also.  Many lawsuits have been filed stateside.  First, a class action lawsuit was filed in California.  Then, one was filed in Texas.  Individuals in Mississippi and Illinois have brought suits alleging damages.  Law firms are soliciting people who have been allegedly harmed by the breach to join in on the class actions.

Many of these plaintiffs will have to prove that they were a member of Ashley Madison, that there data was exposed, and that they suffered harm from the exposure.

Now, millions of men are finding out that at the risk of everything else, cheating only pays if you win a lawsuit

Damages extend far beyond the potential for divorce and humiliation.  For example, it is against military law to cheat on one’s spouse.  Those in the military who have been exposed as cheaters may be in legal trouble.  Furthermore, the Avid Life conglomerate encompasses sites where gay people can also find an affair.  Those who were not openly gay could be criminally prosecuted if they live in a country that forbids homosexuality.

Earlier this year, dating site Adult Friend Finder was also hacked. Although Adult Friend Finder does not specifically market to those hoping to have an affair; users still entered incredibly personal details in their online profiles, including their sexual fantasies.  Many names were released, and much embarrassment ensued.  The hack was much smaller and involved significantly less users, but attorneys are still attempting to gather harmed users for class actions.

Ultimately, the irony of the Ashley Madison situation does not lie in that millions of men have been ousted for attempting to cheat on their spouses, but instead that most of the women they were attempting to cheat with were not real.  After the data dump, it was discovered that a majority of the so-called available women on the site were either bots/fake profiles, or women who never actually checked their accounts.  Now, millions of men are finding out that at the risk of everything else, cheating only pays if you win a lawsuit.

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About Paige Miles Feldmann, Managing Editor (20 Articles)
Paige Miles Feldmann is a 2016 graduate and served as the Managing Editor of the Campbell Law Observer for the 2015-2016 academic year. Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, she graduated from Penn State with a finance degree. Following her first year of law school, she interned with the Clerk of Superior Court for Chatham County, the Wake County Family Court, and the Wake County Public Defender. She also competed on a Campbell Law Trial Team in the Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition. Paige worked with the Wake County District Attorney as an intern in the misdemeanor section during her third year.
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