All of China’s 1.4 billion citizens are about to be put under greater scrutiny as the country prepares to launch its ‘social credit score’ scheme.
The project rates citizens based on their behaviour, and those who do not play by the rules are added to a list that prohibits them from certain luxuries.
Fears are growing regarding the ethical implications of scheme, with some questioning the morality of the big-brother culture.
When Liu Hu recently tried to book a flight, he was told he was banned from flying because he was on the list of untrustworthy people. Liu is a journalist who was ordered by a court to apologize for a series of tweets he wrote and was then told his apology was insincere.
“I can’t buy property. My child can’t go to a private school,” he said. “You feel you’re being controlled by the list all the time.”
And the list is now getting longer as every Chinese citizen is being assigned a social credit score — a fluctuating rating based on a range of behaviors. It’s believed that community service and buying Chinese-made products can raise your score. Fraud, tax evasion and smoking in non-smoking areas can drop it, reports the Daily Mail.
China’s growing network of surveillance cameras makes all of this possible.
“It can recognize more than 4,000 vehicles,” Xu Li said.
Li is the CEO of Sensetime, one of China’s most successful artificial intelligence companies. It has created smart cameras for the government that can help catch criminals, but also track average citizens.
“We can tell whether it is an adult, a child, male or female,” Li said.
Ken Dewoskin has studied China’s economic and political culture for more than three decades. He says how the new scoring system truly works is kept secret and could be easily abused by the government.
Tracy: “How far into people’s daily mundane activities does this go?”
Dewoskin: “Well, I think that the government and the people running the plan would like it to go as deeply as possible to determine how to allocate benefits and also how to impact and shape their behavior.”
The purpose, of course, it is for the government to use this social credit scoring system to punish people that it deems not sufficiently loyal to the Communist Party, Tracy reported. And trying to clear your name or fight your score is nearly impossible, because there’s no due process.
As we reported before, China’s ‘social credit’ system blacklists “lazy” citizens who get into debt or spend their time playing video games in a creepy initiative that could have come straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.
Analysing users’ social media habits and online shopping purchases, the nightmarish system also grants real financial credit to citizens whose lifestyles are deemed to be more wholesome.
While the social credit scheme will become mandatory in China in 2020, it is currently being tested in pilot schemes which have been rolled out through private financial companies.
The most high profile of these is Sesame Credit which has been developed by Ant Financial and uses computer algorithms to score people from 350 to 950, reports The Guardian.
Likened to an episode of dystopian horror series Black Mirror, Sesame Credit rates people on factors including “interpersonal relationships” and consumer habits including buying video games.
It appears the authoritarian one-party state believes that someone who plays a PlayStation or an Xbox is an “idle person”, reports the BBC.
Those with a low-rating are “blacklisted” meaning they are unable to book a plane flight, prevented from renting or buying property and are unable to secure a loan or stay in a luxury hotel, reports Marketplace.org
One of the largest schemes currently operating is in Shanghai where jaywalking, traffic violations and skipping train fares can get you blacklisted.
But that’s not all. Citizens who do not visit their elderly parents or do not sort out their garbage into the appropriate recycling bins can also be penalised and effectively frozen out by the state.
Businessman Xie Wen spoke with MarketPlace.org after he was blacklisted following a financial dispute in which he never paid a debt to a client who sued his company.
He was then added to the Chinese Supreme Court’s list of “discredited” people.
Wen said: “It hurt my business. My clients didn’t trust me. I didn’t get much work.”
Not only was Wen banned from going on a plane or a high speed train but he was unable to send his child to private school.
The same report published in February this year says that since October 2013 nearly 10 million people have been added to the same list.
As the mandatory 2020 date looms, President Xi Jingping has cemented his grip on power by scrapping the country’s two term presidential limit making him the most dominant Chinese leader since the murderous Chairman Mao Zedong.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
August 21st, 2018