Ashley Madison owner faces $810m privacy suit

Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman in a 2013 photo. Hackers dumped caches of data last week that contained names, e-mail and home addresses, and message histories of thousands of Canadians.
Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman in a 2013 photo. Hackers dumped caches of data last week that contained names, e-mail and home addresses, and message histories of thousands of Canadians.PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA • A C$760 million (S$810 million) class action lawsuit has been launched against the owner of affair-seeking website Ashley Madison on behalf of Canadian users whose personal information was hacked and leaked online, as the perpetrators vowed more attacks.

The suit against Toronto-based Avid Life Media (ALM) alleges ALM failed to protect the privacy of "many thousands of Canadians" whose names, e-mail and home addresses, and message histories were posted online by hackers for public viewing.

"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," according to a statement by the lawyers.

Ashley Madison is known for its slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair". It helps connect people seeking to have extramarital relationships and is owned by ALM.

The hackers, a group that called themselves Impact Team, dumped caches of data last Tuesday and Thursday which cyber security experts said appeared to be genuine.

The releases contained millions of e-mail addresses, including United States government officials, British civil servants, high-level executives at European and North American corporations, and e-mail by the company's founder Noel Biderman.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, filed by the law firms Charney Lawyers and Sutts, Strosberg, is a disabled Ottawa widower.

His lawyers said he joined the website "for a short time in search of companionship" after losing his wife of 30 years to breast cancer.

Canadian media in July reported that one in five Ottawa residents or nearly 200,000 people were registered with Ashley Madison, making the city the most infidelity-friendly in the country.

The Toronto Star last week identified hundreds of Canadian government e-mail addresses in the leaked membership data.

Mr Phillip DeZwirek, who holds a 4.7 per cent stake in ALM, said he was not concerned about a potential material cost associated with either settling or fighting the class- action lawsuit.

"As an investor, I'd be more concerned with finding out who did this and having them punished by the criminal system," he said.

In an exchange published last Friday by online technology website Motherboard, the Impact Team threatened to launch attacks on other targets it considered unethical.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Ashley Madison owner faces $810m privacy suit'. Print Edition | Subscribe