Life Inside China’s Social Credit Laboratory

from Foreign Policy

Rongcheng was built for the future. Its broad streets and suburban communities were constructed with an eye to future expansion, as the city sprawls on the eastern tip of China’s Shandong province overlooking the Yellow Sea. Colorful billboards depicting swans bank on the birds — one of the city’s tourist attractions — returning there every winter to escape the Siberian cold.

In an attempt to ease bureaucracy, the city hall, a glass building that resembles a flying saucer, has been fashioned as a one-stop shop for most permits. Instead of driving from one office to another to get their paperwork in order, residents simply cross the gleaming corridors to talk to officials seated at desks in the open-space area.

At one of these stations, Rongcheng residents can pick up their social credit score.

In what it calls an attempt to promote “trustworthiness” in its economy and society, China is experimenting with a social credit system that mixes familiar Western-style credit scores with more expansive — and intrusive — measures. It includes everything from rankings calculated by online payment providers to scores doled out by neighborhoods or companies. High-flyers receive perks such as discounts on heating bills and favorable bank loans, while bad debtors cannot buy high-speed train or plane tickets.

By 2020, the government has promised to roll out a national social credit system. According to the system’s founding document, released by the State Council in 2014, the scheme should “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” But at a time when the Chinese Communist Party is aggressively advancing its presence across town hall offices and company boardrooms, this move has sparked fears that it is another step in the tightening of China’s already scant freedoms.

But it has been hard to distinguish future promises — or threats — from the realities of how social credit is being implemented. Rongcheng is one place where that future is visible. Three dozen pilot systems have been rolled out in cities across the country, and Rongcheng is one of them. According to Chinese officials and researchers, it’s the best example of the system working as intended. But it also illustrates those intentions may not be as straightforward as they like to claim.

More here.

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3 Responses to Life Inside China’s Social Credit Laboratory

  1. Jacob Abel April 27, 2018 at 2:08 pm #

    The system described in this article is something out of Orwell’s 1984 and is the ultimate example of big brother. Whether or not this system is effective is beyond the point as from a Western perspective this is very disturbing. While the system makes sense in terms of Chinese values as the article notes, it will be interesting to see if this becomes one system throughout China. China does have a long history with trying to implement programs which seek to improve the behavior of individuals. Confucian writings have long outlined the importance of filial piety and the importance of taking care of those in ones community. This is why it is often said that the rise of communism in China is not as shocking as some may think.
    The tying of this system to peoples financial futures is something that I think reflects how far reaching this program actually is. The anecdote about the design in which the government bureaucracy is located I think perfectly reflects the reality of this situation and shows the enormity of the Chinese government. The reach of this program is so unparalleled in the modern world and the scary part is that it seems to be working it places that it is being implemented. As the article notes the goal is to stop people from breaking laws and tying so much of peoples lives to this system will probably make them more conscious of their decisions. It seems as though the system will only get bigger as it has been in development since 2010 with a mixed record.
    Seeing as many US citizens struggle with Facebook using their data I can only imagine how they would react to this system. As the article notes the Chinese government is already using big data throughout the country to keep track of people. It will be interesting if this development in China is able to gain traction in other parts of the world.

  2. Donald J. Ross IV May 4, 2018 at 8:57 pm #

    animal = “cat”

    func soundFor(animal: String) -> String {
    switch animal {
    case “cat”:
    return “Meow!”
    case “dog”:
    return “Woof!”
    case “cow”:
    return “Moo!”
    case “chicken”:
    return “Cluck!”
    default:
    return “I don’t know that animal!”

  3. Cara E. June 8, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    The concept of a social credit score is not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard. In fact, I am not at all surprised that it is going to be implemented in China by 2020. A social credit score mixes a tradition credit score with that of a social score. I do not understand the reasoning behind the push for a social credit score though, to measure and “promote trustworthiness”. Last time I checked, there are some amazingly trustworthy people that live in neighborhoods that are less than ideal. In contrast, I know people that live in multi-million-dollar neighborhoods and I wouldn’t trust them at all. The notion of relying on material things to determine how trustworthy a person is does not sit right with me.

    Social credit scores will have a detrimental effect to those not necessarily living in the lap of luxury. Not only does the system rank a person on essentially what could be defined as their socioeconomic status, but it rewards them for it. An example would include, discounts on heating or air conditioning, decreased rent, and loans with low interest rates or high flexibility. The system would be creating a stronger divide among socioeconomic class in China by giving the rich discounts and not to the poor due to a lifestyle they cannot afford.

    The system will add or subtract points from a person’s social credit score depending on violating laws or doing a good deed. This creeps me out because for them to add or subtract points like that the government would have to either be constantly watching a person or having people input information about a person. Both of these methods for finding out what people are doing and creepy and flawed. If the government is consistently watching a person’s every move they would have to have cameras everywhere and cameras that are able to accurately identify a person. These cameras or computers would also have to be able to recognize a good or bad deed in the act of it. If a person had to input all of their good and bad deeds into a system, there is nothing stopping people from withholding poor information. In addition, people could easily input positive things that did not actually happen to try to make themselves look better. The article does state that the acts have to be backed by official documentation however, getting documentation and submitting it for everything you do well and everything you do wrong could become tedious.

    Social credit scores in Rongcheng have changed the way that citizens have followed the law. While the law is one of the primary sources feeding into how a person is ranked for good or bad deeds, there should be other benchmarks. The city has seen excellent improvement with how citizens are treating one another and not breaking laws. Many people in the city of Rongcheng have already felt trapped by the system and feel as though it is an unfair system. Personally, I cannot blame them if a similar system were to be implemented in the United States I would also feel trapped. It is so common for people, especially in the United States, to constantly feel as though “big brother” is watching. Implementing a social credit score would only strengthen that feeling and potentially make people want to rebel against the system making it counterproductive.

    The article reminds me of an episode of a Netflix original series by the name of Black Mirror. In this particular episode, the show follows a female who is part of a system which measures one’s social ranking. Measurements are on a five-star scale with five being the best possible score and low being a zero. Throughout the episode, the female is constantly doing things to make her score better by looking happier, appearing friendly, posting certain pictures, and moving to different neighborhoods. Each person in the episode would rank surrounding people based off of the interaction they had. People in the show became obsessive over their scores and began to live their life to improve their scores. The main character was not able to fly due to a lower score, was not able to buy a house in a nicer neighborhood or go to a longtime friend’s wedding. The episode reminded me of what China is implementing and how easily reality could turn into a fictional episode. People are already graded on their social standings through social media to an extent and all Rongcheng, China needs to do is add other benchmarks and we are half way there.

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