China’s burgeoning Social Credit System, whose self-professed mission is to build “Glorious Trustworthiness” creates a data-driven social credit score using algorithms based on financial credit, criminal records, and other rankings of good and bad behaviors.  Rewards and punishments will be doled out accordingly.

Fans of the of the prophetic British series Black Mirror, will immediately recall last season’s premier episode “Nosedive” – a dystopian, cautionary tale on this very topic, run amok.  Where each encounter with any person or business is instantly rated and everybody’s scores are viewable through a contact lens they wear.

The Chinese government claims the system is meant to create social accountability and curb fraud.  According to its State Council “The creditworthy will be granted conveniences in education, employment and opening start-ups, while severe wrongdoing will be made public.”  Last year, 4.9 million people were stopped from taking flights and 1.65 million banned from trains because they had defaulted on debts.  Income disparities already grant these same privileges – will this “level the playing field”, or compound financial strife with public shaming and loss of rights for the economically challenged?  Creating Jim Crow 3.0?

A recent article in Global Risk Insights has highlighted an ulterior motive, in that “there’s growing speculation the system aims at societal control, specifically as a means to stimulate consumption. One way to increase one’s score is to purchase more via Alipay. That the story in the Western media portrayals of “social credit as Big Brother” is actually one of social credit being about spurring consumerism in a country where people have historically saved more than they’ve spent.”

Using the social credit system to penalize users of pirated software meshes with both Beijing’s and Alibaba chairman Jack Ma’s goals. Ma has recently shifted from his hitherto pro-counterfeit stance, with March marking his first time directly calling out the Chinese government for its lax laws and modest penalties for counterfeit goods.  Chinese consumers could raise their scores by buying legitimate goods such as software, ideally through Alipay, in order to get benefits such as faster visa access and expedited security checks.  Note: 70% of software used in China (including the government’s) is pirated or not properly licensed.

It’s already being piloted in 9 provinces, using data from 18 government agencies.  Once it’s out there, there’s no going back.

This could help clean-up film, television and other media pirating behavior, but at what cost?

What are the possible futures you see playing out with Social Credit systems?

When this be adopted in the US?


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