Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Concerns grow over China's 'nightmarish' social credit score system


National database will be set up to rate each citizen's trustworthiness – but does it go too far?

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
China is preparing to introduce a controversial credit score system which ranks each citizen's trustworthiness based on a variety of financial and social factors.
The Social Credit System (SCS) is still in its trial stages, with the government planning on creating a national database by the end of 2020.
Citizens and organisations will be ranked not just on their financial reliability but also on their social interactions and consumer spending, the BBC's Celia Hatton reports.  This information will then be shared between public institutions.
The exact details remain unclear, but the system reportedly takes a variety of things into account, including points on a person's driving licence, products they buy and how they are evaluated at work.
Rogier Creemers, who studies Chinese media policy and political change at the University of Oxford, agrees that the planned measures go well beyond establishing financial creditworthiness.
"All that behaviour will be integrated into one comprehensive assessment of you as a person, which will then be used to make you eligible or ineligible for certain jobs, or social services," he told the New Scientist.
One of the main pilot projects is currently being run by Sesame Credit, a subsidiary of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Perhaps most controversially, the company openly admits that it judges the types of products shopper buy online, the BBC says.
"Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility," said Li Yingyun, Sesame's technology director.
The company then rewards people with high credit scores with perks such as a prominent dating profile on the Baihe matchmaking site to VIP reservations with hotels and car rental companies.
The system has prompted criticism from many outside of the country, including American Civil Liberties Union policy analyst Jay Stanley, who labelled the programme "nightmarish".
But others believe an innovative and comprehensive credit rating system is sorely needed in China. "Many people don't own houses, cars or credit cards in China, so that kind of information isn't available to measure," explains technology blogger Wen Quan.
Creemers, who was responsible for translating publicly released documents about the SCS, said the Big Brother fears raised about the system are typical of Western media's coverage of China.
"Pretty much anything China does makes people panicked," he said. "And many times we don't recognise that we are doing similar things."

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