Social Credit Systems: the unholy marriage of big government and social media

Wired released an article titled “Big Data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens” last October. It is a long but good read, particularly since the story covers two bases I’ve been harping about on this blog: big government and the dangers of social media.

The entire article is worth a read on its own. I’ve posted the majority of the introductory paragraphs here as a preview:

On June 14, 2014, the State Council of China published an ominous-sounding document called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System”. In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?

Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It’s not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it’s already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

For now, technically, participating in China’s Citizen Scores is voluntary. But by 2020 it will be mandatory. The behaviour of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity)in China will be rated and ranked, whether they like it or not.

Keep in mind that China has strict control over the type of information its citizens see via the “Great Firewall of China”. While we are able to access and discuss content like this article freely at the moment, the Chinese are mostly unaware of this outside perspective due to censorship imposed by the state. The current Chinese government, which Trudeau describes accurately as a “soft dictatorship” (something that Trudeau admires by the way, which is scary for Canada), are acting as moral arbiters. It’s their way or the highway. Resistance is futile.

Read the entire article here.

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