China Social Credit System: Another experiment of the Communist Party

China Social Credit SystemChina is once again in the news headlines and this time around too, it is all for the wrong reasons. A rumor is doing the round that the Chinese Communist Party is toying with the idea of launching a new system to rate its citizen based several criteria offered by the government. The all-powerful Chinese Government is planning to launch a new Social Credit System christened as Chinese Social Credit System for all its 1.3 billion people. This might sound ridiculous but believe it or not, Chinese Government has signaled the go-ahead for this ambitious plan.

Launched in the year 2014, Chinese Social Credit System is making headlines around the world and this scheme is planned to be rolled out nationally by the year 2020. This scheme when gets implemented will track everybody including government officials, business organizations and individuals and then all of them will be assigned a score. When this flagship program gets completed, every single citizen of China will have access of database containing all the information tracked by the government agencies. This scheme is not ready now. The Government of China is trying to centralize several smaller local databases.

To get an idea what the Chinese Government actually thinks about this ambitious plan, we need to take a look at the articles published in Xinhuanet, which is a state-run media agency and is known for acting as a spoke person of the Communist Party. China Social Credit System, as explained in one article published in Xinhuanet, focuses on these areas primarily – judicial system, social behavior, commercial activities and of course administrative affairs.

The main idea of this Social Credit System is to gather as much data as possible about China’s firms and then storing all that information in a single centralized location for easy accessibility and then analyzing that data to assign each company a credit score.

How the China Social Credit System Should Work

The system might work in the following fashion – for each positive action, citizen will be rewarded with some points conversely for every negative action, points are going to be deducted. Points will be deducted for example if you get caught littering in public places. If your action gets caught by security cameras, your points will be deducted from your Social Credit Score. Though, if someone else decides to clean up the place after being defiled by you, several points are going to be added to their score.

Depending on the nature of the actions, points will get deducted. The nastier are specific deeds, the greater the point change. You need to check one episode of The Black Mirror “Nosedive” as it has successfully captured this action in all its goofiness.

As stated earlier, by 2020 the Social Credit System will be rolled out nationwide. But there is not much info available how this system will work.

It is important to note that sever pilot projects has been launched to understand the efficacies of this system. These projects do provide us some information how the Government is wishing to go ahead with this scheme.

Significances of the Chinese Credit System

People who can earn a lot of points will be rewarded at the end. For instance –

  • People will be able to book a car or rent hotels without requiring them to make a deposit in advance
  • People will be allowed to travel to foreign countries with no restrictions imposed on them
  • Express security inspections will be exclusively available for those people with high social credit score
  • People will get preferential treatments in dating sites
  • Those with high scores will obtain lower interest rates

However, people with minimal social credit rating will be get reprimand in many ways. For instance:

  • People with lower social score might be defined from obtaining soft class train tickets
  • They will be barred from checking in premium hotels
  • People will be refused from sending their kids to premium schools in China
  • You face complete travel ban if your social credit score is too low.

Motivations

Some say that the idea of social credit appeared as an outcome of the nation’s distrust of the government and corruption issues. People are getting agitated and angry because of the widespread scandals involving corrupt officials and people in authority positions abusing their power. Things have got ugly. There are so many scandals like unscrupulous doctors asking for bribes, extreme exploitation of labors, medical scams, online scams, etc. All these are problems need to be addressed.

However, journalists say it is another cruel social experiment and it looks very similar to good citizen cards popularized by Japan during their occupation of China during the World War 2.

If we go by the statements proclaimed by the Communist Party, the objective is to develop a culture of sincerity and to sustain a culture of trust and harmony.

The Suining County Trial

A test project was launched in 2012 Jiangsu province, in southern China. In addition to getting penalty points for driving offenses and bribes, people lost points for:

  • Disturbing party officials with minor problems (50 points)
  • Not taking care of elderly people (50 points)
  • Being a member of various cults (50 points)
  • Misbehavior on the Internet (100 points)

Alternatively, people with good social standing or excellent employees could add 100 points to their score. A maximum of 1000 points can be obtained by a person if he/she follows all the rules.

All people were divided into four groups: group A, B, C, and D. Group D consisted of people who managed to collect the lowest number of points. Group D representatives were disallowed from many things even from applying for jobs.

But a great public outcry forced the government officials to stop The Suining County Experiment. Citizens did their best to oppose this system. They started to sabotage government and web services, they used VPN software trying to escape that tough control at least online. People in Suining County are no more assigned rankings by the government.

Sesame Credit

Sesame Credit is one more example of social credit scheme and it is rather a successful attempt.  Sesame Credit is Alibaba’s financial wing. As of now, Alibaba may boast 410 million customers worldwide. It is the largest marketplace after Amazon. Baihe which is a very popular dating services in China and Sesame Credit is a partner of this company too. So, that clearly points out to the fact that Sesame Credit has a large userbase to begin with.

Information collated from different sources like the shopping activities of the users, social media activities is all evaluated and used by Sesame Credit. After analyzing this huge data, Sesame Credit assigns ratings to people. This rating is also used by other companies in China. This can have a direct impact on the credit card applications and other similar services.

Though voluntary, this scheme does sound creepy but strangely enough, this scheme has got thumbs up from the consumers.

The Future

It appears that Chinese officials are seriously planning to make this plan come true. So, the authority is looking with eager eyes and expecting a positive outcome from the Sesame Credit experiment. Though, there are insurmountable level of technical and logistical problems needed to be resolved first before this incredible Dystopia conceived by the Communist Party manages to gain a little traction.

The main problem that this social credit system is facing is that China never has any credit score system available in any format to begin with.

So, some people are arguing that to ensure success of this massive initiative, some form of credit system needs to be put in place and the absence of which makes it very challenging.

Another major issue is that authoritarian Communist Party can’t take even take even the most harmless criticism lightly. They get all jacked up. So, public outcry against this system like what we had experienced in the case with Suining County experiment may have a big impact on the implementation process. So, the only thing we can do is keeping our fingers crossed.

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