China’s Proposed ‘Social Credit Score’ Brings Scores of Implications for Privacy

Back in 2014, the State Council of China published a document entitled “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System.”  While the name is fairly innocuous, the concept it presents is far from. In this document, China proposes a national trust score that ranks citizens based upon their activities, purchases, social connections, finances and things they view and say on the Internet.

China plans to rate citizens’ activities – with various items designated as positive and negative – and then compile a rating based upon these activities. The rating will become a so-called “citizen score,” which speaks to the trustworthiness of any individual in the country. The scores will be publicly shared and have far-reaching implications, including impact on things you can do – for example open a credit card or obtain certain jobs. The program is currently voluntary, but will become mandatory in 2020.

Ratings Based on Data

The Chinese government granted licenses to 8 private companies so they could work on methods of implementing the social credit scores. These companies, many of which are data companies, are using algorithms and other means to create the scores. Two of the main companies include China Rapid Fire (which is a partner of Tencent, the company behind chat app WeChat) and Sesame Credit (which is an affiliate of retail giant Alibaba and the company behind Alipay). These companies have access to a tremendous amount of personal data already, and imaging how much more they will have access to – but morso how they will be able to use the data – is beyond concerning.

The citizen ratings will be based on several categories, including the following:

  • Credit history
  • Fulfilment capacity
  • Personal characteristics
  • Behavior and preference
  • Interpersonal relationships (friends)
  • Sharing positive energy

Positive energy can include good sentiment about the government, or positive things posted on the Internet. According to the new system, sharing negative comments or sentiment wouldn’t have a detrimental impact on one’s score. However, it seems unlikely this would hold true and it is conceivable negative commentary online might have a negative impact. What one’s friends say online can also have an impact on social credit score.

Far Reaching Implications 

This system obviously will have an enormous impact – societally and for the right of an individual to privacy. While much of the data that goes into the score is already being collected, the scale of the proposed system and the way the information will be publically shared and used is astounding. In effect, it will eliminate privacy entirely within the country – not only increasing the collection and correlation of very personal data, but sharing that information with the government, companies from retailers to tech giants, and of course with other citizens. No one will retain any sort of control over their information – no matter how personal – as things from personal communications, to shopping preferences, to viewing and gaming preferences, to financial information, to travel history to medical details (IE records of a health-related purchase) will all be fair game.

If the system is implemented as planned, literally every detail of a person’s life will be catalogued, the information stored and subsequently used to judge an individual. As cited in a Wired piece about the news, this system not only investigates and monitors citizen behavior, it will actually shape it. Image how your daily choices and actions would be impacted if you knew your every action was being monitored, recorded, publicly shared and used to judge you. In effect, companies behind these algorithms are building spying and surveillance mechanisms for the government, who will ultimately run the program once it takes full effect in 2020. Once it begins, it will likely expand to more categories and information than initially outlined, leaving citizens with no choice or control.

Incentives to Join

Of course when the system is officially implemented by the government it will be mandatory to participate, but many citizens are – somewhat surprisingly – stepping up to join now. When wondering why the answer is clear – incentives. Those who have a certain score can receive types of loans, VIP perks and benefits in places from hotels to rental car agencies, financial incentives and more. The ratings also have a personal impact, serving as a “status symbol” for many  (and one that people care about, as there are reports of people bragging about their scores online). They even impact personal life, as those with high scores enjoy benefits, for example dating profiles ranking higher on sites.

Conclusion

Censorship has been ramping up in China over the past months, undoubtedly, but the social credit score certainly brings surveillance, privacy violation and control to new, unprecedented and almost unfathomable levels.

Source & More Details: Wired UK