Social Credit System in China

Turning Big Data Into Mass Surveillance

Yuneui (Yunnie) Choi
5 min readMay 7, 2018

The ‘Nosedive’ episode of Black Mirror, in which everyone in a future society has a social credit score that can be nudged up or down based on interactions with other people. However, in China, this is a real situation.

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.”

The “social credit system,” first announced in 2014, aims to reinforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful,” according to a government document.


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.

But criticism hasn’t stopped millions of Chinese citizens from voluntarily signing up for the program before it becomes mandatory in 2020. That’s partly because of China’s widely unregulated market, where many signed contracts aren’t kept, and where counterfeit and substandard products move freely. The Chinese government says these problems represent a “trust deficit” that could be fixed with a codified credibility system.

The social credit system rides on data available through cashless transactions on mobile payment platforms of Alipay and WeChat Pay that the Chinese use now to pay for practically everything. Alipay, owned by Alibaba lists over half a billion users on its website and with its slogan “Trust Makes it Simple.” WeChat Pay owned by Tencent also claims hundreds of millions of users both within and outside China with transactions in British pounds, HK dollars, US dollars, Japanese yen, Canadian dollars, Euro among others. Both Alipay and WeChat are not merely payment platforms but entire online ecosystems of social media, financial services, consumer goods and services, entertainment, travel services, banking, government services including medical services, news, education delivery and more.

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.

Also, this system uses these kind of information below.

  • Financial credit information from the People’s Bank of China.
  • 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.

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. Other potential punishments for low-score citizens could include slower internet speeds, restricted access to businesses, and being prohibited from entering certain professions.

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.

The scheme gives people a score of between 350 and 950, based on data collected from five major categories…

  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.

In this case, this kind of social credit system that I mentioned above may have many advantages to make a health society. However, are all of the citizens happy with this system? Doesn’t it make people’s life more uncomfortable that living in the city of Surveillance?



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.