A report from China’s National Development and Reform Commission revealed that more than 7 million people in the communist country have been banned from boarding airplanes for being ‘untrustworthy’ while 3 million more are on a blacklist from riding high speed trains.
This report offers only a snapshot into the consequences of China’s Social Credit System which seems like an ambitious attempt at engineering society’s behavior.
China’s New Social Credit System
The Social Credit System, which is expected to be up and running by 2020, is a proposal by the Chinese government to award a point system to the country’s population of 1.4 billion. The system aims to improve individuals’ behavior by valuing the trustworthy, law-abiding citizens while punishing those who are dishonest and disobedient.
A 43-year-old Chinese journalist Liu Hu, is one of the victims of the country’s social engineering program who was banned from traveling with a number of airlines after a 2015 defamation lawsuit put him on SCS’ “dishonest personnel” list.
Hu lost the defamation lawsuit in 2015 and still owes the court thousands of dollars in fine. In an interview with ABC, he said that he was dumbstruck to find his name on the blacklist since the government had failed to notify him about the decision.
Liu Hu is one of the 7 million citizens who have been put on the dishonest personnel list and are no longer able to fly with airlines, stay at decent hotels, get loans, take holidays, buy a house, or even send their children to private educational institutions.
The government is now adding more penalties to its Social Credit System by announcing last week that people on the dishonest personnel list could also have their assets seized.
Citizens of Suzhou Already on a Point-Based System
Some cities in China have already started integrating the SCS point system by rating citizens on a scale of 0 to 200 with the baseline being 100 points. Citizens of Chinese city Suzhou are incentivized to perform benevolent acts by awarding bonus points whereas those who commit crimes, disobey the law, or deviate from the social norm can lose points and certain privileges.
A local police report in 2016 revealed that the highest-ranking citizen in Suzhou with 134 points had donated more than a liter of blood and performed a number of volunteer activities to attain the highest rank in the city.
Suzhou’s lawmakers say that they’re creating a punishment system for those who disobey the law or try to cheat the system. Even transgressions as insignificant as cheating in video games, not showing up at a restaurant after making a reservation could result in people losing points.
Profiling Consumers by their Behavior
China’s private companies are already creating large databases to profile customers based on their purchasing habits. One company named Ant Financial has launched its private credit system called Sesame Credit, which uses complex algorithms to rate consumers by their behavior and preferences.
For example, the website would label someone as ‘idle’ if they spend their entire day playing computer games. The website is also able to rate someone based on their purchases; someone who buys baby supplies or diapers is recognized as a parent by the algorithm, and hence seen as a person with more sense of responsibility.
Many people believe that China’s new Social Credit System could be a violation of human rights and a way for the government to gain absolute social control by engineering people’s behavior and adjusting their decision-making.
Engineers and AI experts who are building the SCS say that there are a number of issues with the new credit system that need to be dealt with in order for it run effectively. One of the biggest roadblocks is the lack of integration between various platforms that are collecting data and using algorithms with no legal or conceptual rationale to wrongly-accuse people and put them on blacklists.