Social Scores May Be Rolled Out In China

Most adults in the world have some idea of what their credit score is. Quite simply put, this is a numerical value which is calculated by payment history and other financial factors which is an indication on an individual’s ability to take on a debt and pay it back. Various companies and other private institutions rely on credit scores to assess risk in granting loans, extending leases, and sometimes even offering work.

However, China has revealed in the past their intention to create a social credit score that the government and private institutions would be able to scrutinize, a sort of “good citizen” score. You are not in a dystopian sci-fi novel, this is real and may start sooner than you’d think.

The social credit score has been proposed by China as a way to develop a ranking system on a national level, not unlike a credit score. Where this goes further though is that instead of just looking at economic and financial issues, it also will weigh social and online activity into calculating a score. How exactly this would be determined and what the ramifications of either good or bad social credit scores would be are yet to be seen, because the system currently is not in place and is likely still undergoing a fair amount of development. The apparently aspect is that Big Data theory would be relied on heavily to mine both qualitative and quantitative data on citizens.

China’s main public aspirations in creating this are the creation of a sincere society where trust is guaranteed. Again, this idea is not really all that far off from the core aspirations of a financial credit score. This deviates when we start talking about interpersonal trust, and potentially the trust between government and citizen. Instead of just having loans denied, a poor social credit score could mean that other privileges and -potentially rights- would be denied to the individual.

Added surveillance and inspections could await those who have “broken social trust” enough online and elsewhere to have their scores lowered. With “good” behavior being rewarded and “bad” behavior being punished, this system could very quickly become a very malicious tool to be used against Chinese citizens. This is especially true considering that the Communist Party itself would be the ultimate judge of those “good” and “bad” definitions. Even if the Party is initially benign, a precedent would be set that if malicious leadership rose to power in the party the system could be used to quell dissident thought and activity.

While this currently is only being debated with any real substance in China, it should worry everyone even if you’re not directly affected. If this is seen as a human rights abuse, it could cause financial unrest among nations. If it’s seen as a particularly egregious human rights violation, it would not be outlandish to picture military engagements. An equally troublesome instance would be other governments not only condoning this program, but developing and implementing their own version of such a system. Its intentions and implementation very well could have completely benevolent intentions, but I remain skeptical of assigning numerical values to social interaction.

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