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Canadian Privacy Commissioner Investigating Ashley Madison Over Data Breach

The privacy watchdog is trying "to determine how the breach occurred and what is being done to mitigate the situation."

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Canada's privacy watchdog is investigating the Ashley Madison data breach after millions of user accounts were exposed by hackers.

As first reported by the Toronto Star, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner said Monday it has opened an investigation into Avid Life Media, the Toronto-based company that runs AshleyMadison.com.

A hacking group calling itself The Impact Team hacked Ashley Madison in July, and later released the data of millions of users online.

The hackers say they targeted the dating site for people who want to cheat on their partners because it did not fully delete user information even after charging people $20 to completely wipe their accounts.

Carl Court / Getty Images

"Given that the company is based in Canada, and considering the global scope of the incident, our Office will be investigating jointly with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, and in cooperation with other international counterparts," Valerie Lawton, a spokesperson for the privacy commissioner, told BuzzFeed Canada in an emailed statement.

The Privacy Commissioner's office says it has already been in contact with Avid Life Media "to determine how the breach occurred and what is being done to mitigate the situation."

Chris Wattie / Reuters

The Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, is an Officer or Parliament and reports directly to lawmakers. His office has the power to investigate both private and public sector organizations and pursue court action under two federal privacy laws.

The privacy watchdog's office did not provide any further details about its investigation into Avid Life Media. The company, which also runs CougarLife.com and EstablishedMen.com, claims on its website that Ashley Madison has 33 million members in 46 different countries.

Toronto Police said Monday that two unconfirmed suicides have been linked to the Ashley Madison breach.

Toronto Police Service / Via YouTube

Staff Supt. Bryce Evans warned at a Monday news conference in Toronto that the hackers' actions "won't be tolerated."

The police task force investigating the data breach, which also includes the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, and the FBI, has been dubbed Project Unicorn.

Avid Life Media has also announced a $500,000 CAD reward for anyone who provides investigators information that "leads to the identification, arrest, and conviction" of those responsible.

The company is likely to face a barrage of lawsuits as a result of the massive data breach.

Two Ontario law firms have already filed a $578 million class-action lawsuit on behalf of Canadians who subscribed to Ashley Madison over the company's handling of personal data.

Similar lawsuits are being filed in the U.S., but as BuzzFeed News reported this week, different legal standards make the company more vulnerable to class-action suits in Canada.

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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