The Chinese government is planning to launch its Social Credit System by 2020. To judge the trustworthiness – or otherwise – of its 1.3 billion residents. In the year 2014, the China State Council stated by publishing a menacing-sounding document called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System“. And in the way of Chinese policy, it was somewhere lengthy rather than a dry affair. Somehow, it contained a radical idea but was composed of a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that helped in rating the type of citizen you are?
Can you imagine a world where your daily activities are monitored and at the same time are evaluated? This will include your daily routines: for how long and what content you watch, what you buy at the shops and online, where you are spending time at a given time, who all are your friends and how you are interacting with them, what all bills and taxes do you pay; pay or not. These scenarios are not that difficult to imagine as they have already taken place in our lives; big thanks to the data collection sites like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and the health tracking devices like Fitbit. Moreover, now imagine a system where all these acts are rated as positive or negative and are condensed into the single number that would be based on the rules set by the government. This will create your citizen score and will help others in deciding whether you are trustworthy or not. Moreover, along with this, your rating would be publicized against the entire population in accordance with determining your status and eligibility for mortgages, any job, and more.
You might relate it to the futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control. But, it is already getting underway in China, where the government is already developing a Social Credit System for rating the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion inhabitants. The Chinese government is now pitching the system as a desirable way of measuring and enhance “trust” publically for building a culture of “sincerity”. The policy of the government states that- “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.”
Other’s are less optimistic about its wider purposes. Johan Lagerkvist a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, described the social credit system as: “It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinizing individual behavior and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist”.
Whereas, “Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder” this is how Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral scholar specializing in Chinese law and governance at the Van Vollenhoven Institute at Leiden University, who published a comprehensive translation of the plan, compared the Social Credit System.
At present, China’s Citizen Score is spontaneous and is expected to go mandatory by 2020. The manner and way of action of every single person in China would be rated and ranked regardless of they like it or not. Prior to its national rollout in the year 2020, the Chinese government is undergoing watch and learn approach. In this union between communist oversight and the capitalist can-do, the government has so far given the license to around eight companies to come up front with systems and their algorithms for Social Credit Scores. Certainly, the data titans are presently working on two of the best-known projects.
The first projects if with China’s Rapid Finance, a partner of the social-network behemoth Tencent and the developer behind the popular messaging app WeChat which has over 850 million active users.
The other, Sesame Credit, is being run by the Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), that’s an affiliate company of Alibaba. The Ants Financial is expertise in selling and providing loans to small to medium-sized businesses. However, the crucial agent of Ant is AliPay, people are not only using it for payments and buy things online but also for school fees, restaurants, taxis, cinema tickets and even for transferring money one-to-one.
Moreover, the sesame credit has also tied up with ore data generating platforms such as the Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing company that was known as one of the major challenger’s of Uber in China earlier acquiring the American company’s Chinese operations in 2016, and also the Baihe, that is known as the country’s largest online matchmaking service providers. It is quite easy to see how that all aggregates to very large amounts of big data that Sesame Credit can tap into to assess how people react and rate them correspondingly.
Here, the big question arises is!
How are people rated?
Individuals on a Sesame Credit are measured by a score that ranges between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not confess the “complex algorithm” it uses to compute the figure but they do reveal the five aspects taken into detail. The first is credit history; for example: does the person is paying off their bills on time? The next comes up is the fulfillment capacity which defines “a user’s ability to fulfill his/her contract obligations”. The third one is a person’s personal characteristics and verification of personal information such as individual’s mobile phone number and the location. The turning point is; the fourth category, behavior, and preferences, is where it gets really interesting.