Oct 7, 2015
A citizen’s status, or credit score that ranges from 350 to 950, is available for everyone to view via Credit China. Citizens with higher scores are rewarded; a score of 600, for example, qualifies for an “instant loan” of about $800. At 650, renting a car no longer requires a deposit. At 700, a citizen is fast-tracked for a Singapore travel permit; higher travel visas such as to Europe will be granted for even higher scores. A specific high score may be required to get specific high-status and influential jobs.
“With the help of the latest internet technologies the government wants to exercise individual surveillance,” stated Rogier Creemers, a Belgian China-specialist at Oxford University. “Government and big internet companies in China can exploit ‘Big Data’ together in a way that is unimaginable in the West.”
A citizen’s credit score can be hurt by buying video games, posting political comments without obtaining prior permission, “talking about or describing a different history than the official one, or even publishing accurate up-to-date news from the Shanghai stock market collapse (which was and is embarrassing to the Chinese regime).” Pirate Party Founder Rick Falkvinge added:
But the kicker is that if any of your friends do this — publish opinions without prior permission, or report accurate but embarrassing news — your score will also deteriorate. And this will have a direct impact on your quality of life.
Alibaba, a shopping site, and the social network Tencent, which are the companies running all the social networks in China, will be running the system; the companies have access “to a vast amount of data about people’s social ties and activities and what they say.” Johan Lagerkvist, a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, said the credit rating system is “very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinizing individual behavior and what books people read. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist.”
“China’s nightmarish Citizen Scores are a warning for Americans,” according to the ACLU’s Stanley. “The United States is a much different place than China, and the chances that our government will explicitly launch this kind of a program any time in the near future is nil, but there are consistent gravitational pulls toward this kind of behavior on the part of many public and private U.S. bureaucracies, and a very real danger that many of the dynamics we see in the Chinese system will emerge here over time.”
Sure you could blow it off as U.S. citizens would never willingly march down the same path as China, but the changeover could happen slowly as people become outraged over each new privacy-invading tidbit and then the outrage passes. Stanley suggested “the TSA’s airline passenger ‘whitelist’ system could evolve” to be similar to China’s new system. For years, credit card companies in America have been using “elements of its judgment-and-reward system” in the “U.S. private-sector credit scoring infrastructure.”
I hope this new Chinese system becomes household knowledge in the United States, and can provide the kind of widely recognized paradigm for what to avoid and how not to be that the old totalitarian regimes used to give us. At the ACLU we are constantly warning of the dangers of abuses of power, and often the dangers we cite, while well-founded, consist of potential futures, leading critics to say we’re being “merely theoretical.” With this Chinese system, a whole range of things we’ve warned about are no longer theoretical.