You're Busted! China’s Social Credit System Automatically Confronts Its Citizens with the Result
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In 2014, at the 4th Plenum of high ranking communist party leaders, the Chinese government detailed a far-reaching program called the Social Credit System (SCS). The Social Credit System gets described in numerous Western publications as a massive Orwellian program to use surveillance and behavioral evaluation to punish and reward individuals for their conduct. In a detailed paper by Rogier Creemers of the University of Liden titled, “China’s Social Credit System: An Evolving Practice of Control,” the author concludes “the fundamental objective of the SCS is instituting cybernetic mechanisms of behavioral control, where individuals and organizations are monitored in order to automatically confront them with the consequences of their actions.” In other words, the SCS, planned for completion in 2020, monitors hundreds of individuals actions from paying court fees and taxes on time to what they post online and with which people they associate. All of the monitored actions will get summarized in a number or social credit score that will be accessible to everyone.
According to a CBS news report on April 24, 2018, the system already affects some people’s lives. “Some with low scores are already being punished if they want to travel. Nearly 11 million Chinese are not allowed to fly, and 4 million are barred from trains.” The Chinese government officially seeks to develop “sincerity” and “trustworthiness” in its citizens with the SCS, and it focused on four main areas to start. First, the system targets government affairs to battle corruption and build trust. Second, SCS seeks to support the market economy with the credit score serving to determine everything from credit eligibility to access to certain goods and services. Thirdly, social services such as medical care and education will be evaluated at the individual score level of doctors and teachers. Lastly, the court system will use the SCS in the resolution of legal cases and to support their massive push for using online dispute resolution.
To effectively execute SCS, it contains a wide range of various rewards and punishments. People who behave in an exemplary manner earn a high score and get placed on the “red list,” and those that misbehave end up on the “blacklist.” Good scores open doors to better loan and credit options, access to better hotels, and many other things. However, those on the blacklist experience many reductions in their access to goods and services. Some of the restrictions that may apply to blacklisted individuals include prohibition from starting a company, acting as a CEO, or participating as a board member in a financial firm. Additionally, blacklisters have other social and professional restrictions such as borrowing money, working for the government, membership in the Party, restrictions on travel by air and rail, access to high-star, luxury hotels, nightclubs, and golf courses. Additionally, other limits include no vacationing abroad, purchasing or renovating a home, and one’s children cannot attend private schools.
Back in 2014, the Chinese government launched a program that will assign every citizen a continually changing Social Credit Score based on hundreds of data points gathered about how they live their lives. The system makes everyone’s score available, and high scores get placed on the red list, which provides perks and privileges. On the other hand, low scoring individuals get put on the blacklist, which restricts both private and professional opportunities and access to goods and services. The credit score is not new or exclusive to China. In the US since the 1950s, credit scores have been used to determine loan and credit eligibility by many financial institutions. The statisticians, Bill Fair and Earl Isaac, developed the FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) credit scoring system used today by the big credit bureaus such as Experian and Equifax. FICO scores also get used for more than credit worthiness such as evaluating job applicants and determining home and auto insurance rates. However, the FICO score may have crept out of the lending industry, but it still gets determined by financial measurements such as credit payment history and length of credit history. China massively broadened the scope and implications of the credit score with their SCS. Such an effort to make their 1.4 billion people behave faces massive technical hurdles in computing and data management, but more importantly they face the issue of whether people will prosper and grow under intense judgement and unrelenting surveillance.
Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.
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