Chinese App Helps Users Identify Nearby Debtors

Josh West

"Deadbeat debtors in North China's Hebei province will find it more difficult to abscond," touted the Chinese government after introducing a new app aimed at helping users locate and report delinquent debtors, Techspot reports. The app, which is billed as a map of "deadbeat debtors," was rolled out through the locally popular WeChat platform.

Here's how it works: The user receives an alert if they are in close proximity to a person behind on debts, based on a database maintained behind the scenes. Personal information of the suspected debtor is displayed, including name, national ID number, and the reason they were added to the list. From there the individual can be publicly shamed or given the opportunity to blow the whistle if they are believed to be in a position to repay what they owe.

The pervasive interest of the Chinese authorities in the daily lives of its citizens is well-documented, with this latest technology fitting into the broader vision of a "social credit" system planned to be introduced by the government in 2020.

Under the nascent social credit system, citizens will be tracked and evaluated based on a variety of behaviors, losing points for various infractions like failing to pay taxes or misbehaving on public transportation. Much like a credit score, this data will be organized into a comprehensive report linked to an individual ID number.

Alternatively, a person's social credit score could be improved through desirable behaviors such as donating blood or volunteering.

The social credit system in general and the debtor locating app in particular are indicative of a trend toward leveraging pubic shaming and social pressure to produce desirable societal outcomes.

"The idea itself is not a Chinese phenomenon," says Chinese Studies researcher Mareike Ohlberg. "But if [it] does come together as envisioned, it would still be something very unique. It's both unique and part of a global trend."

Currently the social credit system exists in a scattered manner with different versions of the approach implemented in different areas. Ultimately these regions will be linked into a single master database.