In China, a country whose culture maintains an ultra-competitive dynamic in all areas, the social credit introduced in 2014 and applied to all Chinese citizens is in the news around the world. This credit involves the Chinese being rate on their behavior, their relationship with government institutions, and their interactions with other citizens
In this context, more than 170 million cameras were already installed in China in 2018, their number should reach 400 million by 2020 (to compare: in France, about 1 million cameras are currently working). In addition, highly developed facial recognition technologies make privacy non-existent and freedom very limited.
Introduction to the Sesame Credit System
The Scoring System – Big Brother is Watching You
The Chinese project is therefore based on the evaluation of each of the Chinese citizens and to reward the most deserving while punishing the least disciplined. As the ratings are made public, the long-term objective would be to create a national ranking. This system will not only monitor the behavior of the inhabitants in daily life but also online. On social networks, comments, photos, articles, and videos are reviewed to analyze the content and determine if it is acceptable. Ultimately, the accounts to which an individual subscribes and friendly relationships will also be analyzed to determine if a person has a bad company.
A system that is frightening for the rest of the world. A system assimilated to George Orwell’s 1984 dystopic narrative and also compared to the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror (S1 EP3).
The system was therefore set up in 2014 and it is four years later, in 2018, that the first sanctions fall. According to The Guardian, 23 million people are reported to have faced bans on the purchase of train tickets or air tickets. Worse, 128 people are officially banned from leaving the country due to non-payment of their taxes.
What are the sanctions applied to low scores?
The penalties are therefore very real and apply for any form of reason: a red crosswalk, a late invoice or poorly managed expenses. Indeed, the number of users of mobile payment methods (via Alipay or WeChat Pay in particular) has reached 583 million. Purchases are recorded in the application’s data and can be collected at any time by the government. The number of points lost is assessed according to the seriousness of the offense.
The sanctions, as well as the reasons for the penalties, are diverse and varied:
- Blacklist an individual from the lists of airline and railway companies
- Prevent children from entering the best schools in the country
- Make it impossible to access the best jobs
- Slow down home internet connections
23 million Chinese have been banned from buying flight tickets in 2018
On the other hand, the highest scores have access to different kind of benefits:
- Easy access to the best institutions
- Discount on air and train tickets and on transport in general
- Access to higher-ranking jobs
- Easy access to credit
A note that conditions different aspects of citizens’ lives, therefore, allowing access to many social privileges for the elite and many penalties for the lowest ranked.
The scoring system is still being developed and managed by regional governments, however, Beijing eventually wants to obtain a database that centralizes all the information of its citizens. At a time when the American digital mastodons Google and Facebook are accused of collecting and using their users’ data, China should have its data center in place by 2020.
A system that will soon be in place for all Chinese citizens. A system that will require to remain in line with the line of governance of the Chinese Communist Party.
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