China’s Social Credit System Has Already Affected Millions

A demonstration in China.
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Data is beginning to emerge from the emerging “social credit” system that has been rolling out across China, with results showing millions have already been affected by the scoring system, The Associated Press reports.

Early data released about 2018 shows that there were more than 17.5 million instances in which a traveler was barred from purchasing airline tickets due to documented offenses ranging from unpaid parking fines to excessive video game playing. Another 5.5 million examples were identified where would-be travelers were prohibited from buying train tickets. The data, provided by the National Public Credit Information Center, also indicated that 128 individuals were barred from leaving the country at all due to unpaid taxes.

The pervasive interest of the Chinese Communist Party in the day-to-day lives of its citizens is well-known, with a more robust and comprehensive version of the system planned to be introduced by the government by 2020.

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

Much like many of us around the world have grown used to personal ratings on platforms like eBay and Uber, the Chinese social credit system would corral a large number of data sources into one dominant score, which will doubtless carry with it overarching consequences.

The approach is about more than just limiting public transportation access or chasing down unpaid taxes. The Information Center also indicated more than a quarter million instances of citizens being blocked from taking senior management jobs due to their poor performance on the social credit score.

Additionally, millions in unpaid fines have been collected since the implementation of the system.

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“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.

Privacy advocates and political activists remain vocal about the potentially dark implications of the system, pointing to the potential for abuse and the overall mechanism of social control being driven by leaders in the ruling party. Increased technology, artificial intelligence, and improvements to public surveillance and data analysis are all contributing to more effective tracking and control of the Chinese public.