October 24, 2016 Articles

Anonymity, Arbitration, and Purloined Documents: The Ashley Madison Data Breach Litigation

A case complicated by hacker-released information on cheating spouses and internal documents.

By Matthew M.K. Stein

Data breach litigation is many things, but often it isn’t scandalous. Similarly, if it’s “sexy,” it’s only in the metaphorical sense of an exciting or fascinating idea. But for customers of the Ashley Madison website—former motto: “Life is short. Have an affair”—the litigation is scandalous, and it’s sexy, in the literal definition. Customers signed up for the website to do what Ashley Madison’s former motto promised. After last year’s hacking and data breach, there is litigation over it.

After Ashley Madison was hacked and its operator, Avid, ignored demands to shut down, customer information and internal documents were released into the wild by hackers. Ashley Madison’s customers are concerned about something more than the usual vague fears associated with their debit and credit card numbers being exposed. (To be sure, people whose Social Security or credit card numbers are stolen can face serious consequences through new debt and damage to their credit reports, but identity theft protection and zero-fraud liability reduces those two risks.) Ashley Madison’s customers want to prevent the “potentially catastrophic personal and professional consequences” of being outed as customers in public—for the damage to marriages and partnerships.

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