You have to use your real name to sue Ashley Madison over breach

3some

Data-breach replete adulterers’ site Ashley Madison should come up with a new slogan. Maybe something along the lines of…

Life Is short. Have an affair. Full, legal name required on all subsequent class action filings.

As you might recall, the pro-infidelity site got thoroughly breached last July.

Good-bye, supposedly “discreet” e-handling of cheaters’ hook-ups; hello, subsequent exposure of names, email addresses and sexual fantasies of nearly 40 million users.

The fallout was nasty and prolonged as the culprits kept turning the screws on victims it dismissed as “cheating dirtbags.” Unsurprisingly, extortion attempts followed.

And, of course, the lawyers smelled blood.

Never mind the fees that divorce and child custody lawyers likely gobbled up. The class action lawyers are the big fish here, and invitations for victims to join suits – such as this one, filed in Missouri – quickly sprung up.

Would jurors actually sympathize with people who cheated on their partners?

The court may well have made that question moot for many, given that earlier this month, it denied would-be plaintiffs the use of pseudonyms.

US District Judge John Ross ruled that plaintiffs have to use their real names: no “John Doe” may sign on.

Forty-two plaintiffs had filed under pseudonyms such as that “to reduce the risk of potentially catastrophic personal and professional consequences that could befall them and their families” should they be publicly identified as someone whose sensitive personal information, the ruling noted.

Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Dating Life Inc., had opposed the use of fake names on the grounds that anonymous lawsuits are only permitted in “rare and exceptional circumstance.”

Pseudonyms are permissible when it comes to protecting the privacy of rape or abuse victims, or in other sensitive cases involving use of abortion and birth control use, homosexuality and transsexuality, AIDS, and the welfare of abandoned or illegitimate children.

Judge Ross agreed with Avid: this isn’t such a case, even though using real names would further expose Ashley Madison users’ identities and their financial data.

From his 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, there’s money at stake here. Plaintiffs have to have some skin in the game, and that skin is their unmasked identity.

One “John Doe” plaintiff promptly dropped out, as Ars Technica reports.

People caught up in the breach can still take part in the class action suit, but if they choose to do so anonymously, they won’t be seeing any big payouts. Only lawyers and named plaintiffs stand to be awarded large settlements.

And as Ars notes, even named plaintiffs likely won’t be rolling in the dough over the Ashley Madison class-action suit, given that data breach cases have tended to give large payouts only to prevailing plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Class members, not so much. One example: CNN Money broke down the $10 million awarded to victims of the massive Target breach.

If all 40 million people whose debit and credit card data were exposed during that breach were to have joined the class, and no one claimed actual damages – i.e., unauthorized credit card charges, bank fees or costs related to replacement IDs, all of which would have to be documented – the most each person would have gotten was 25 cents, CNN Money reported.

In the Ashley Madison case, Judge Ross has given the class – all of whom are, so far, avoiding the use of their real names – until June 3 to lodge the class-action complaint and decide whether they want to be named or drop out.

Image of Secret affair courtesy of Shutterstock.com