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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

"Two concepts of group privacy" by Michele Loi and Markus Christen accepted at Computer, Privacy and Data Protection Conference 2019


Luciano Floridi was not the first to discuss the idea of group privacy, but he was perhaps the first to discuss it in relation to the insights derived from big data analytics. He has argued that it is important to investigate the possibility that groups have rights to privacy that are not reducible to the privacy of individuals forming such groups. 
In this paper, we introduce a distinction between two concepts of group privacy. The first, the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”-privacy (in the following: WHVSV-privacy), deals with confidential information shared with the member of a group and inaccessible to (all or a specific group of) outsiders. The second, to which we shall refer as inferential privacy, deals with the inferences that can be made about a group of people defined by a feature, shared by all individuals in the group (e.g. being a smoker). 
We show why we unreservedly agree with Floridi that groups can have a form of privacy that amounts to more than the mere fact of being sets of individuals each of whom has individual privacy; moreover, like Floridi we find it plausible that at least some groups (that is, type-a groups) have a right to a species of group privacy (that is, WHVSV-privacy) qua groups (and not just qua individuals who belong to those groups). 
However, by turning our attention to the context of big data analytics, we show that the relevant notion of group privacy is one of inferential privacy. We provide reasons for being skeptical that the interest in inferential privacy should be protected by a right (either of individuals or groups) and show that it is especially implausible to conceive such right as a group right in the strong sense.

online first Philosophy and Technology

Loi, Michele, and Markus Christen. 2019. “Two Concepts of Group Privacy.” Philosophy & Technology, May.