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China social score: when Black Mirror becomes reality

China social score: when Black Mirror becomes reality

In China there is a system that calculates the social score of every citizen: it is called Social Credit Scoreand it could become a real nightmare for the citizens of Hangzhou and Beijing.

One of the most iconic episodes of the famous dystopian series “Black Mirror”Is ‘Nosedive’ (in Italy known as ‘Caduta Libera’). The “what if” at the base of the episode can be summarized in “How our company would work if the likes on social media counted truly? “. This concept is developed in the form of a social scorethat is a personal scoredetermined by likes and come on votes that people assign following each social interaction. Having a high score allows you to benefit from many privileges And comfort. Having a low score, on the other hand, precludes from services and fundamental opportunities.

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Obviously the episode exacerbates the concept, and the reality told serves to reflect on other issues, such as the effective value of interactions on social networks and the influence of society on the increase in inequality. But what seemed, in 2016, a dystopian exaggeration, is now developing in China, in an attempt by the government to control its citizens even more tightly.

The social score system in China: how does it work?

The program of Chinese social score, which started a year ago in Hangzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, has now also been started in Beijing. In the capital it will involve at least 20 million people. But how does it work? The whole is based on a initial social credit of 1000 points, and on the mixed use of cameras and people in charge of monitoring the life of their neighborhood. Anyone who carries out incorrect or illegal actions, such as violating the highway code or leaving the garbage around, loses points; On the other hand, those who perform virtuous actions, such as donating blood or volunteering, receive it.

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But this system goes beyond the simple distinction between “good citizens” and “bad citizens”: exactly as in the episode of Black Mirror, those with a low score cannot access certain services, such as the possibility of buy a plane or high speed train ticket. It is estimated that 10 million citizens could not book a flight or train ticket due to their score. Citizens with a credit score particularly low, they are also kept under strict surveillance, and are substantially unable to use the various social services.

If you want to understand even better how the social credit score works, we recommend that you look at the Vice service dedicated to Chinese Social Credit Score system. The surprising thing is that, according to the controllers, this system has significantly improved the lives of the citizens of Hangzhou: there are no more quarrels, everyone behaves well and the community lives in peace and serenity. Obviously there will also be some background that we will never be able to know.

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Open Sesame!

THE credit scoring systemsin fact, they also exist in Western countries, such as the US and UK, but are usually limited to financial history of an individual, and affect only the ability to request loans And mortgages. The Chinese system was also born on a similar basis: following the explosion of the country’s economy in recent decades, attempts have been made to give banks the tools to evaluate loan applications, and avoid fraud And impaired loans. However, the program has evolved since then, and its new and broader objective is to keep track of the social behavior of citizens, encouraging virtuosity and discouraging the crime.

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The most important private credit scoring system is the Sesame Creditdeveloped by Ant Financial Services. This group is affiliated with Alibaba Groupthe Chinese e-commerce giant closely tied to the government, and which it also controls Alipay. The data used, theoretically collected with the user consentinclude the credit history And financialbut also personal characteristics And online behavior, depending on the actions performed on social networks and shopping sites. While for now having a low score does not imply penalties, a high score allows you to obtain more easily loans by the financial group and to have a more profile reliable on e-commerce sites associated with Alibaba. Ant Financial, through the site and the app, also makes available to users various tools to keep track of their score, and to be able to improve it if necessary, in order to take advantage of the various benefits.

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Always under control

Sesame Credit is in theory separated from the national systembut in reality it appears that the latter in its final implementation will consist of a ecosystem of public and private actors. It therefore seems likely that the Sesame Credit will still play a role of some kind in China’s dystopian future.

The national program should become mandatory for all by 2020, with consequences that are difficult to predict. His supporters underline the potential of the initiative improve the behavior of citizens and to have a positive impact on social fabric. But the tight surveillance and control derived from the application of this program, added to the now total pervasiveness of the government in the digital infrastructures, limits the freedom of Chinese citizens even more, with the possibility of arbitrarily deciding whether a behavior is virtuous or not. The system is also easily subject to corruption, and there are already opportunities to regain points by donating money “In charity”. This allows people with the right financial means to compensate for any incorrect behavior, but further marginalizes the poorest segment of the population.

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For now, the Chinese government does not seem determined to step back, and therefore it seems that the Chinese population is facing a further one reduction of personal freedomsin exchange for a system that should improve the safety they social standardsbut that will likely only end up increasing inequalities and the injustices.