Chinese authorities are expanding the use of an unprecedented technological strategy that gives the government almost complete control over society.
Surveillance, citizen profiling and a Social Credit System combine for a cocktail that is as fascinating as it is terrifying.
The nationwide credit system is scheduled to be launched in 2020, but several pilot systems have already been trialled in smaller cities throughout the country. The idea is to give each citizen a “social score” that will rise and fall depending on the person’s behaviour.
Around 1.4 billion Chinese nationals will be incorporated in a point system that rewards the “trustworthy” and punishes the “disobedient”.
Low scores can significantly impact the life of a person, with penalties including bans from flights with national carriers, ineligibility for public universities and even frozen assets.
Things like dodging transport fares, jaywalking and cheating in video games are considered transgressions that can impact your social score. On the other hand, donating blood or doing volunteer work boosts your points.
The National Development and Reform Commission claims the initiative has already allowed the government to ban more than 7 million people from boarding flights and close to 3 million others from riding on high-speed trains. That’s almost the whole population of Sydney and Melbourne combined.
Authorities in Shenzhen recently implemented facial recognition tech and online shaming to counter petty crime.
In Xiamen, where the Social Credit System has been working since 2004, local authorities play a voice message whenever you call someone with a low score.
“The person you’re calling is dishonest,” the caller hears before their call is connected.
Private companies have also noticed the potential for such technology and have run their own trial programs to profile their customers. Alibaba-affiliated company Ant Financial has developed “Sesame Credit”, a private credit system that rates people according to their consumption behaviour and preferences.
“Someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” Li Yingyun, Sesame Credit’s technology director, told local press.
“Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility,” he said.
Not creeped out yet? In some areas, China is using something called Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), an Orwellian mass surveillance system that pools information on anyone from legal databases, internet presence and bank records.
Combine that with these Terminator-like smart glasses and things are getting pretty grim.