Social Credit System in China

Turning Big Data Into Mass Surveillance

Netflix drama ‘Black Mirror’ Episode ‘Nosedive’
Credit: Kevin Hong

“Given the speed of the digital economy it’s crucial that people can quickly verify each other’s credit worthiness,”

The Chinese state is setting up a vast ranking system system that will monitor the behaviour of its enormous population, and rank them all based on their “social credit.”

PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAN WINTERS; ILLUSTRATIONS BY JAMES GRAHAM

About Social-credit system

This “social-credit system” would mobilize technology to collect information on all citizens and use that information to rate their behavior, including financial creditworthiness and personal conduct.

How it works?

It uses Big data analyse system and Artificial intelligence. A massive network of surveillance cameras will also help to record and measure citizen behaviour.

  • Financial credit information from the People’s Bank of China.
  • Creditchina.gov.cn is a database for enterprises that records administrative penalties, various blacklists and also “red lists” for good deeds such as filing taxes on time.
  • The National Tourism Administration’s blacklist for “uncivilized behaviors” names tourists and operators who misbehave, for instance, destroying cultural relics or causing trouble on a flight.
  • Dozens of cities are testing their own social credit systems. In Shanghai, jaywalking, traffic violations, refusing to visit elderly parents, not sorting out garbage into the appropriate bins or dodging train fares could all be recorded on social credit files. Credit expert Hu said these infractions should be scrubbed from records after a few years.

Advantage and Disadvantage for citizens

A 2017 Wired cover story points out that high social credit scores are seen as a status symbol, and they earn people more prominent visibility on dating apps, as well as perks at businesses–gift cards, faster check-ins at hotels and airports, and no required deposits for rental cars.

Trial: Credit ranking scheme by Alibaba

One company which is set to be a major player in running China’s social credit system is Alibaba, which is currently trialling a ‘credit ranking scheme’ which people can voluntarily sign up to.

  1. Credit history — does the person pay their bills on time?
  2. Ability to fulfill contractual obligations on time
  3. Personal information — mobile phone number, address
  4. Behaviour and preference — such as what products someone buys — people who buy nappies are given a higher score, because parents tend to be more responsible, people who spend 10 hours a day playing video games are given a lower score.
  5. Interpersonal relationships — who your friends are and what you say on social media — those who ‘big up the Chinese economy’ get a higher score, for example.
Sesame credit — How it works?

Big Data meets Big Brother

Most of us are used to having our daily activities constantly monitored and evaluated — what we buy, how much tax we pay (or not), what television programmes we watch, what websites we visit, where we go, how ‘active’ we are’, who our friends are and how we interact with them — such monitoring is now done routinely via Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Some of the things are helpful but some of us who don’t want to share my data with companies and government feel uncomfortable with this.

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I’m a service experience designer who loves innovative technology, human-centred goodness and collaborative work. Currently based in Seoul, South Korea.

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Yuneui (Yunnie) Choi

I’m a service experience designer who loves innovative technology, human-centred goodness and collaborative work. Currently based in Seoul, South Korea.