Opinions: China’s social credit policy terrifying resembles Black Mirror’s bleak future

When the stuff of dystopian nightmares become real


China is planning to implement a policy rivalling those of dystopian novels – one that will track people’s behaviour and punish those who have low scores.

Despite China’s long history of censorship and less than democratic values, a new policy has taken people by surprise. A new “social credit” policy, currently in its early stages, has the country resembling an episode of Black Mirror or a classic dystopian novel, and the threat of violation to rights is the centre of attention. The system, which China intends to fully implement by 2020, uses citizens’ purchase history, infringements – minor and major – and a myriad of other factors to determine their social credit rating. The system is a terrifying look into a bleak future.

Unlike the plots of most dystopian media illustrates, the impact is not limited to social status or monopolization of public services. Those with social credit deemed to be too low risk losing their right to travel, including flying or taking trains. The early stages of this policy have already left nine million Chinese banned from domestic flights. Another three million have been banned from purchasing business class tickets for flights. In the case of Businessman Xie Wen, his failure to pay a debt owed to a client who had sued him even cost him the ability to send his child to private school. Though it has not reached a national level as of yet, the policy is being tested by a handful of private companies, with the most high profile being Sesame Credit. The company promotes sharing this information both in general social media and with potential partners.

The fact that these companies are refusing to admit what information they are gathering is an issue that has been raised by bloggers already. Given the repercussions of this information this is a huge issue.

With a population of over one billion people it is hard to imagine how many people would lose their right to transit when – or, more optimistically, if – the system is nationally implemented. Beyond this the lack of clarity on what is being tracked and what the full consequences could be makes it difficult to get a scope of how much autonomy would be taken from individuals. However, the implications are chilling. After all, it’s not like dystopian novels have happy endings.

As distant as the issue may seem to some, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the infringements on our privacy made by social media providers and web browsers alike. The targeted advertising aimed at users is more specific than ever and people are inviting this into their homes readily with new at home AI technology. In the United states the case of Victor Collins death is being solved by the information garnered from Amazon’s Alexa and other smart devices in his home. While an extreme case, this lack of privacy is something that makes some shy away from these technologies. Microsoft has also announced that there will be an increase in censorship on their platforms. Users will risk their accounts and account balances for nudity or fowl language.

Though it may not perturb all, this progression in China should serve to make us question further just what personal information is being collected and to what end. A world of monopolisation and overt control of populations is not what we should be striving for.

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