“Life is short. Have an affair.” That’s the tagline that originally attracted millions of users to infidelity website, Ashley Madison.

Its classy sounding name along with its promises of absolute confidentiality seemed like the perfect fit for the rich, bored, married woman and men that formed the site’s target audience. However, Ashley Madison’s recent hacking and the subsequent release of 10 GB worth of personal user information currently has would-be cheaters singing a different tune.

The victims of the hack spanned multiple professions and walks of life. Everyone from politicians to CEOs, Hollywood celebrities to respected military personnel, suddenly found themselves with a lot of explaining to do. However, the Ashley Madison hack was more than just a personal embarrassment for many people. It also has some serious legal implications to consider.

Consequences for Ashley Madison

As is the case with any website entrusted by visitors with sensitive personal or financial information, Ashley Madison naturally has a responsibility to protect its members using appropriate security measures. Users of the site might potentially entrust it with information such as credit card numbers, nude pictures, real names, physical addresses, and carefully guarded sexual fantasies.

It would have been reasonable to expect Ashley Madison to use state-of-the-art security measures in line with the highly sensitive nature of such information. In actuality however, the site was relatively mum about their approach to security, saying only that they use “industry standard” practices and techniques. Which industry? Which standards? The answers are unclear and their lack of forthrightness could ultimately cost them.

If Ashley Madison was negligent in keeping the data secured, the courts will likely issue hefty judgments from affected members. However, at this stage, it still isn’t quite clear whether the hackers were unusually skilled or if Ashley Madison was truly a less than trustworthy custodian when it comes to users’ personal information.  Currently several lawsuits have been filed against Ashley Madison totaling over $578 Million Dollars.

The company could also find itself facing consequences for not properly deleting accounts or information upon customer request. When clients leave the site, they are offered the option of paying for a “complete profile removal”. If Ashley Madison is found to have held onto such information regardless of promising clients otherwise, the company could also be found in breach of contract and face additional ICO fines.

Consequences for News Outlets

Although it only stands to reason that hundreds of news outlets are jumping on the chance to report on various victims of the Ashley Madison hack, it’s important that they do so with discretion. Although many of the people outed thanks to the hack truly did sign up for and use the service in earnest, there are just as many people that could be completely innocent. It’s been found that the company did not always require validation of email addresses, leaving room for error in regards to some of the implications.

News outlets and journalists must also be careful of how they report on the incident and its victims. If done improperly, said outlets could wind up facing defamation of character charges. If found guilty, they could wind up owing damages to the victims as well.

What Should Ashley Madison Users Do Next?

If you were potentially affected by the Ashley Madison hack, then you may be able to claim “invasion of privacy”, “false light” and/or “publication of private facts” in quite a few (although not all) of the American states against publishes of the information. This is due to the nature of the information that was released – financial information, sexual preferences, and legal names to list just a few examples.

As touched on above, if Ashley Madison is found negligent in regards to proper protection of such a highly sensitive database, you could potentially be owed damages, not only from the site but from any news outlets publishing before thoroughly investigating the situation. However, it’s important to note that several legal experts believe questions of character may affect the individual victims’ likelihood of actually collecting said damages via a jury verdict.

Class action suits are another matter altogether. As we’ve seen in similar situations regarding the tobacco industry, there is great power to be found in numbers. However, any damages collected via class action are likely to add up to peanuts for any individual victim.