PositiveSingles, a dating website for people with sexually transmitted diseases, is facing a $16.5m (£10.4m) bill – after breaking a promise to keep its users' sensitive info confidential.
The site is part of an online network for lonely hearts run by Canadian firm SuccessfulMatch. It promised users that the site was "100% confidential", and stated: "We do not disclose, sell or rent any personally identifiable information to any third-party organizations."
However, buried in the terms and conditions that members click through is a provision that profiles on the PositiveSingles site can be shared around other SuccessfulMatch dating sites – such as AIDSDate, Herpesinmouth, ChristianSafeHaven, MeetBlackPOZ and PositivelyKinky.
One of PositiveSingles' users, whose profile was given to other sites, took issue with this – and in 2011 sued SuccessfulMatch in Santa Clara, California, alleging a breach of consumer protection laws.
Last Tuesday, a jury awarded him $1.5m in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages. It's not clear whether SuccessfulMatch will appeal as lawyers today prepare to step up efforts to build a class-action lawsuit.
"These profiles were shared with up to 1,000 individual websites," the anonymous plaintiff's attorney Robert Green told The Register on Thursday this week.
"That's not such an issue if the focus of the dating site is a shared love of horse riding or motorcycles, but with something this sensitive, that's a different matter.
"I was surprised by the size of the verdict, but I think that was down to the nature of the case.
"These are people trying to be responsible about their condition. Dating with a STD inevitably involves telling your potential partner, which can often lead to rejection. By using a site like this people were being honest, open, and responsible."
The judge in the case ruled that the terms and conditions that SuccessfulMatch used to allow profile sharing were so broad and overarching that they were "unconscionable," a legal term meaning that they could not be considered a valid contract.
Green pointed out that another case is pending in a federal court that represents the rest of the PositiveSingles user base. If that goes the same way then SuccessfulMatch could be facing a very high bill indeed. ®