The Ashley Madison hack could cost the company millions and millions of pounds in compensation and settlements in the UK alone, according to lawyers Pinsent Masons.
Around 9.7GB of customer data from the website for people who seemingly can't be trusted, and a sister site, were released by hackers on Tuesday night following last month's megabreach.
This data included the sexual preferences, (stated) weight, addresses, GPS locations, card payment histories, phone numbers, dates of birth, and so much more of more than 36 million people.
Hackers from Impact Team released the data after owners Avid Life Media refused to accede to demands to shut sites marketed as offering would-be adulterers discreet hook-ups.
Pinsent Mason reckons those exposed through the breach would be able to sue without needing to establish that they had suffered a financial loss.
"Recent court decisions in the UK have been leaning towards the view that a claim can be brought when no financial loss occurs, but where a person experiences distress as a result of a data breach," said Luke Scanlon, technology lawyer at Pinsent Masons.
If each UK Ashley Madison subscriber (said to be in the region of 1.2 million) were to try to claim £1,000 in compensation, costs would run to £1.2bn.
"Even if claims for distress in this case are modest, the sheer volume of data breached and individuals affected in this attack could have a critical impact on the company," Scanlon concluded. "This event reinforces the need for businesses to not just think about what is mandatory by law in information security, but what is best practice.”
There is one caveat, however. Given the nature of Ashley Madison's clientele, anyone suing for breach of privacy could expose themselves to greater risk of divorce proceedings — so however put out they feel, they may well not be inclined to argue the toss in open court.
The vast majority of Ashley Madison's clients are thought to live in either the US or Canada, creating the possibility of class action lawsuits.
Avid Life Media has vowed to continue running the site, braving its way through a security storm.
"With all the extra publicity, Ashley Madison is only going to be getting more users," Mikko Hypponen, CRO of F-Secure commented. "Unless class action lawsuits put them out of business." ®