Right out of a dystopian nightmare comes a dark science fiction idea with the likelihood to become a reality by 2020. With a population well over 1 billion, China plans to introduce a social credit system (SCS) that will give each citizen a score based on behavior and lifestyle.
As reported by International Business Times, China’s SCS will develop a score for each person based on several characteristics like bill paying, spending habits, and even type of friends and associates. The publicly available score will serve as a ranking system that supposedly helps establish a person’s trustworthiness.
The social credit system will directly influence an individual’s quality of life. Financially, the score will affect someone’s ability to get a job or even dictate the terms of a loan. Even the school a child can attend will be affected by China’s SCS. Tracking and ranking several factors including wealth, spending, social connections, and security, the system will assign a number between 300 and 850. The higher the number, the better someone’s credibility, opening up greater opportunities than someone with a lower score.
While the SCS is not yet fully implemented, some companies are eager to get involved in testing the idea. Partnering with social media giant Tencent, China Rapid Finance (CFR) will gain personal data access to approximately 850 million active users of the messaging app WeChat. Futurism reports that Tencent plans to introduce a chat app named QQ and integrate with the social credit system to allow users to rate each other. Users with higher scores will be offered better deals for financial services from CRF than lower-scored individuals.
Proponents of a social credit system believe the rating will encourage people to live more responsibly in an effort to boost their score, essentially enhancing trustworthiness. In theory, if someone knows others are watching, they will act better.
Opponents speculate the program is just another way for China’s Communist-controlled government to define what “socially acceptable behavior” is. By using a social credit system, a citizen can be monitored and potentially punished for not living within a norm determined by a government bureaucracy. The system can hypothetically make score judgments based on sexual preference or if someone plays video games for 10 hours a day.
A recent Wired report predicts the development of black markets where underhanded techniques for boosting scores are exchanged for pay; not unlike how someone can buy Facebook Likes and Twitter followers to lift social media authority. In addition, digital experts believe hackers will eventually figure out a way to break in and change someone’s stored information.
For now, China’s social credit system is voluntary, but that will change in two years when every citizen must register and participate. However, many government experts outside of China do not think the program will work long-term and will never be adopted in countries like the United States. Yet, with much of the world already rating everything from restaurants to doctors via social media, it may not be such a far leap to think an SCS will one day emerge that ignites a global popularity contest. Essentially, a virtual game where a “like” or “unlike” could determine if you get a loan, who you marry, and where you live.