from Humans Are Free:
An episode of the dystopian sci-fi series, Black Mirror, is becoming a reality with the implementation of China’s social credit system.
Though still in its nascency, China’s citizen score will become mandatory by 2020, affecting citizens’ abilities to get jobs, access the internet, and travel, based on the way the government deems their behavior.
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The Chinese Social Credit System
It’s voluntary for now, but once it decides on the best algorithm, the Chinese government will obligate every citizen to abide by a set of rules that will dictate their ability to access services within society.
There are currently eight companies competing to build this platform which will be enforced by the country’s massive surveillance apparatus.
There are already a number of users who have voluntarily signed up for the program, in hopes they may be rewarded, or at least immune to punishment when the system is mandated.
Some believe the program will benefit society as a whole, while others fear their children may suffer if parents’ social scores become a factor in deciding which schools they can attend.
AliBaba is one of the top contenders for the interface, as its mobile payment app, AliPay, is used by roughly 520 million citizens.
Its interface, Sesame Credit, is similar to a FICO credit score, but instead of having your financial behavior affect your ability to take out a loan or credit card, Sesame Credit would affect one’s ability to get into certain restaurants, travel, or even go on a date with someone.
The score can be affected by a number of behaviors, including what you say on social media, smoking in public, jaywalking, or getting into disputes with others.
These behaviors are then translated into a numerical “sincerity” score and entered into the system.
Some of the citizens who have already signed up say they enjoy using it and that it has influenced them to be better members of society.
They say they’re more conscientious about their behavior in public and the way they treat others.
But those who see how eerily Orwellian the system is, warn that it is a type of gamified social obedience, where a point system is made to feel like a competition that subversively allows for authoritarian social control.
When you also add the fact that the system permits what others say about you to affect your score, the premise of 1984 becomes all too relevant, creating a system where everyone fears their neighbors’ perception of them.
This self-policing network effect is a typical strategy of oppression, but with a social credit score, it becomes amplified with less effort from the government.
Keeping with the gamification of the pilot program, rewards have been offered for those willing to subject themselves early.
Faster check-ins at hotels, car rentals without a deposit, and shopping loans have been gifted to early adopters.
Enforcing China’s Citizen Score
So how does the government monitor its citizens in order to know when to dock them points for any number of minor infractions? With an omniscient surveillance system composed of millions of cameras and a universal database of every citizen.
Known as the Dang’an System, the government maintains a unique dossier on every citizen in the country for the duration of their life.
This file can be accessed in seconds by a highly advanced surveillance system complete with facial recognition software. And its omniscience is ever-increasing through the use of machine learning.
Citizens are not allowed to view the personal files the government has compiled on them since their birth – to do so would be a severe violation of the law, disobeying the party and putting one’s standing as a citizen in jeopardy.
The technology is used ostensibly for security threats, ensuring citizens’ public safety. Though it is also used to shame people for minor transgressions, displaying one’s photo on a large public screen for infractions such as jaywalking, followed instantly by a text message delivering a fine.