China has launched a social credit system designed to reach into every corner of existence both on and offline. The “social credit score” is described as similar to the American financial credit score system with the addition of political activity, social interactions and purchase history. The data is fed into a computer algorithm that calculates each citizen’s numerical trust score which affects almost every aspect of life.
For example: if you take care of your parents, pay your bills on time and give to charity, you’ll be rewarded with a high rating. High ratings can get you access to visas to travel abroad and access to good schools for your children. If you run a red light, criticize the government and social media or sell tainted food to consumers, you could lose access to bank loans, government jobs and the ability to rent a car. Pilot versions are underway in 30 cities currently & Beijing aims to have the full program running by 2020.
China wants to better control it’s poorly regulated economy, currently the second largest in the world. According to The Week, the social credit system will allow the government to easily punish illegal business people, bureaucrats who take bribes, selling of toxic baby formula or rotten meat. Because China lacks an equivalent to FICO scores that US lenders use to assess consumer credit risks, most Chinese can get credit cards and loans from their own bank. Social credit score system should result in more lending and less fraud, but is mainly a way for the communist party to push citizens toward approved behaviors.
Beijing will score behavior by monitoring the wealth of data generated by people’s smartphones. Smartphone payment methods are overwhelmingly popular there and the payment apps include social networks, ride hailing services, food delivery, hotel booking and even ability to schedule Doctor appointments. That data is then harvested to create the social credit score.
The algorithm assigns users a score between 350 and 950. Higher number = more perks. Lower score means you have to pay larger deposits when reserving hotel rooms, can be shut out of first class seats, etc. Personal traits also factor in highly to your score; how many degrees you have, how much time you spend playing video games, and your even friends scores. And the cherry on top: video surveillance will track everyone through facial recognition. Security cameras in stores and on street corners will be integrated into the surveillance platform & AI will analyze it. Suspicious behavior will be flagged and potentially affect a person’s social credit score.
The system is current up and running in Xinjiang as a testing ground. Authorities are using hand held devices to search smartphones for banned encrypted chat apps and politically suspect videos. Additionally, police checkpoints are equipped with scanners for IDs, faces and eyeballs. The supreme People’s Court blacklist of more than 7 million people who have outstanding fines or judgments will be merged onto the social credit system. When Journalist Liu Hu found himself on able to book a flight on a travel app, he found out that he had entered the incorrect account number when paying a fine which resulted in a blanket ban from all travel (even though he has corrected and paid the fine, he is still on the blacklist). Minor offenses like shoplifting can get you blacklisted as well.
Why It’s Hot
- The social credit score system has profound implications for life in cities everywhere
- There’s nothing so distinctly Chinese about it that it couldn’t be scaled up and implemented anywhere else
- The consequences could be dire if it screws up or a private enterprise gains access to the data
- Freedoms that were once guaranteed will become contingent on algorithmically determined by good contact