social credit

a.k.a. social credit score, trust score

Social credit refers to a person's credit rating based not only on their financial information but also one's political activity, social interactions, and purchase history. Similar to the credit score system familiar to Americans, this is China's new system as of 2018: China's 1.4 billion people are getting "social credit" scores that rate their trustworthiness and determine their place in society.

Historical perspective: According to The Week, Beijing aims to have a program running by 2020 and pilot versions are underway in some 30 cities. All that data is fed into a computer algorithm that calculates a citizen’s trust score. Take care of your parents, pay your bills on time, and give to charity and you’ll be rewarded with a high rating, which can get you access to visas to travel abroad and good schools for your children. Run a red light, criticize the government on social media, or sell tainted food to consumers and you could lose access to bank loans, government jobs, and the ability to rent a car.  “This is like Big Brother,” said Chinese novelist and social commentator Murong Xuecun, “who has all your information and can harm you in any way he wants.”

How does it work? An algorithm assigns users a score between 350 and 950. The higher the number, the more perks you get. Low scorers have to pay larger deposits to do things like reserve hotel rooms, and they can be shut out of first-class seats on trains and planes. Personal factors weigh heavily—the degrees you hold, how much time you spend playing video games, and even the scores of your friends. So if your rating drops, your friends have an incentive to shun you, lest their scores dip too. Users can even link their scores to dating apps to screen potential mates. Video surveillance will track everyone through facial recognition. Some apartments already use facial recognition to unlock doors, and a growing number of restaurants let customers “smile to pay.” As more apps roll out, they will feed their data into a new government surveillance program called Sharp Eyes, a reference to the Mao Zedong–era system of neighbors informing on one another. Security cameras, ubiquitous in stores and on street corners, will be integrated into that surveillance platform, and artificial intelligence will analyze the mountain of video data. Suspicious behavior will be flagged, potentially affecting a person’s social credit score.

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