The leaking of personal information from high profile infidelity site Ashley Madison – part of Canadian company Avid Life Media – has dominated recent headlines as global media speculate about the personal and legal uproar stemming from the scandal. Hackers managed to access the site in July 2015 and published data including domestic addresses and credit transactions on various online networks. There were further reports that various individuals were held to ransom over threats the hackers would release detailed information.
It is believed that the deliberate leaking of personal information was an attack on users of the site which encourages infidelity in marriage. The tagline the company uses to promote its unique stance on monogamous relationships states: “Life is short. Have an affair”. Since the publication of incriminating membership information the public have been able to search the database online, although the validity of the details published is somewhat questionable.
With 37 million people worldwide signed up to the site, the leaking of personal data is bound to have various implications which could range from tearing relationships and families apart to a number of legal implications. A breach of privacy on such a mass scale could prove extremely costly for Ashley Madison. UK law permits claims to be brought against companies in cases involving breaches of data protection where no direct monetary loss has occurred but where a victim has suffered personal distress by way of such information being released into the public domain.
Subscribers to Ashley Madison could now file lawsuits against the company which could have the effect of placing it into a perilous financial position. With over 1.2 [million] UK subscribers, even where minimal claims were pursued, the company could potentially suffer extremely damaging financial losses.
The above event highlights the need for businesses to have suitable data protection services in place, especially those dealing with large volumes of personal data. The failure of Ashley Madison to sufficiently protect the details of their subscribers could prove to be the downfall of a multi-million pound company. The infringement of personal privacy rights is a key issue challenging businesses at a time when technology and the internet play an increasing role in everyday life. Companies must constantly fight to ensure that they are up to date with the latest online practices in order to protect both their customers and themselves. In failing to do so companies such as Ashley Madison could leave themselves open to both civil and criminal action under UK legislation.