Infidelity dating service Ashley Madison promotes discretion when using its site, but not when suing it.
Ashley Madison faced a rush of John Doe lawsuits after a massive data breach last summer that exposed the identity of millions of its users. This week, though, a U.S. district court judge in Missouri agreed with Ashley Madison parent company Avid Life Media that outed users cannot sue the company anonymously.
This is a nasty irony: after failing to prevent the exposure of its users, Avid Life Media is now advocating in court to expose them further.
When a hacking group named “Impact Team” first leaked the identities of users online last August, it revealed that the site had been lax on security and retained records on people who had paid the company for a permanent deletion of their information. The Missouri class action lawsuit alleges that Ashley Madison failed to "adequately secure" users' personal and financial information.
In the Missouri suit, 42 plaintiffs filed under pseudonyms in order “to reduce the risk of potentially catastrophic personal and professional consequences that could befall them and their families," according to the judge's ruling. Avid Life Media, however, opposed this, arguing that anonymous lawsuits are only allowed in “rare and exceptional circumstance"—and that this scenario was not rare or exceptional enough.
From Judge John Ross' ruling:
The disclosure of Plaintiffs’ identities could expose their sensitive personal and financial information – information stolen from Avid when its computer systems were hacked – to public scrutiny and exacerbate the privacy violations underlying their lawsuit.
At the same time, there is a compelling public interest in open court proceedings, particularly in the context of a class action, where a plaintiff seeks to represent a class of consumers who have a personal stake in the case and a heightened interest in knowing who purports to represent their interests in the litigation.
In other words, because there's lots of money on the table, plaintiffs need to pony up their identities.
The judge has given the class until June 3 to decide whether to move forward with the suit or drop out. At least one plaintiff has already dropped out.