China has recently completed an initial trial of what has been referred to as a “social credit” scoring system, and is ready to roll it out to a broader area, aiming to cover every citizen by 2020. For those familiar with the Netflix series, Black Mirror, the first episode in season 3, titled Nosedive, should give you a very good idea of what is happening in China. For those unfamiliar with this episode, here is a description of China’s plan.
The plan is to create a singular data file on every citizen, comprised of “everything from bank-account numbers to court records to internet-search histories,” as well as things like “consumer behavior, conduct on social networks, and real-world infractions like speeding tickets or quarrels with neighbors.” This database is controlled by the government, and used to create a numeric score, aimed to quantify the virtue, sincerity, or trustworthiness of each citizen. Winning awards could make the score go up, while failing to pay fines, or spending all day playing video games could cause the score to go down.
Once the score has been compiled, the government can then use it to reward or punish citizens accordingly. For example, a lawyer was put on a no-fly list because he had previously submitted an apology letter in a court matter that had been deemed “insincere.” A political activist who publicly disagrees with the party line is no longer able to “buy real estate, secure a commercial loan, or pay for airfare. He can’t even travel not he national high-speed rail network.” This is not due to holding piles of debt or making too many late payments, as may happen in the United States, but just for speech that is disfavorable toward the state. In fact, already 11 million Chinese citizens are unable to fly, and 4 million are not allowed to use the train system. A popular dating website has already integrated scores into its system, even allowing a better search ranking if users allow their score to be displayed prominently in their profile. The possibilities for rewards and punishment based on one’s score are endless.
An apt summary of the goal of the program, in a country nearly obsessed with creating a “harmonious society,” is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” While China claims to promote “a culture of sincerity and trust,” data is gathered on citizens to create this score through a series of intrusive means such as “surveillance, data collection, online monitoring,” “behavioral tracking,” and even facial and voice recognition and gait analysis. In addition to its goal to have a social score on every Chinese citizen, China also plans to have 450 million surveillance cameras installed by 2020 as well. Rather than creating a more harmonious society, taking steps such as China is will just leave citizens “in fierce competition with one another, jostling for rankings better than their peers.”
Of course, this is exactly what happened in the Black Mirror episode. Everyone was able to increase or decrease the social scores of everyone else on the fly, and services were denied to people with lower scores. In the episode, with the ability to see everyone’s scores in real time (China has a government website that “allows people to look up the scores of others,” and you can imagine a time when a product such as the Google Glass accesses facial recognition and the scoring system in real-time to display each person’s score, so this is not very far-fetched at all), social interactions were transactional and based largely on people’s scores. For example, people with higher scores were over-the-top fake-nice in order to keep their scores high or raise them. Once the main character's score began plummeting, she started to be more honest, and by the end she was happily trading profane insults with someone in the next jail cell over.
The system becomes even more troubling when you consider that the behavior of friends and family may be factored into the social score. If a friend posts anti-government screeds on social media, it could lower your own score. If you are captured on surveillance cameras speaking with a protestor, you could end up unable to rent a car. This would serve to “isolate dissidents from their friends and the rest of society, rendering them complete pariahs.” “One internet privacy expert warns: ‘What China is doing here is selectively breeding its population to select against the trait of critical, independent thinking.’”
Then again, that’s what the liberals and the public school and university systems in the United States have been attempting to do for a while, so maybe U.S. citizens won’t be very concerned if (or really when) such a social scoring system shows up here. In fact, maybe the liberal agenda has been priming everyone here for such a system to come in with little attention. We continue to be desensitized by privacy breach after data theft after indiscriminate data use, each time seemingly less and less bothered by it. Sure, we hold a few hearings, make some noise, and even resort to fashionable hashtag use (#deletefacebook), but how many people do you know who actually deleted Facebook, or who are actually taking real steps to get off the grid or taking other concrete steps to turn the tide? Are there other ideas on ways to change our trajectory that you would like to share? Certainly on many days, it really does feel like it is only a matter of time before we end up living the the Black Mirror’s dystopian reality here in the “freedom-loving” United States.