Social Credit System (China)
|A guide to|
|Likely to be censored|
The Social Credit System (SCS, 社会信用体系) is a system being developed by the Chinese government, supposedly to reform its credit system and increase market trust. It intended to consolidate data on every citizen and business, and potentially introduce a "credit score" system to rank citizens in order to reward or punish their behaviors, and due to its vagueness and secrecy, critics have called it a mass surveillance tool. It was launched in 2014 and is supposed to roll out nationwide by 2020 (though this did not occur). According to the Communist Party, the SCS will "allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step".
China's financial system suffers from a lack of trust, largely due to the lack of regulations, fraudulent products, and underdeveloped financial credit services. In order to encourage more people to utilize financial credit systems, the Chinese government authorized several corporations, including the conglomerate Alibaba, which utilizes the voluntary Sesame Credit system to score its users based on their shopping habits. While the Chinese government eventually rejected Sesame Credit as an indicator of creditworthiness, the system is often conflated with social credit due to Alibaba's involvement in the credit reform process and concerns over data security.
The Chinese government called for these vague systems to be rolled out by 2020:
- 1) Regulations on financial credit services
- 2) Credit investigation systems
- 3) Credit oversight systems
- 4) A market of credit services
- 5) Incentives for using credit, as well as a punishment system for misuse
Due to the Chinese government's dependency on surveillance and disregard for individual privacy, as well as lack of transparency on the system, critics have called it a mass surveillance tool. It can be used to quickly identify and undermine citizens deemed subversive without disturbing the society at large. Even the collection of everyday digital footprints raises privacy and ethical concerns, especially at the hands of a centralized, authoritarian government.
So how can your credit score get lowered?
A Chinese citizen's social credit can be lowered through a myriad of reasons. Anything from getting traffic tickets, to criticizing the government's dystopian policies can cause a loss of human rights in China.
The major concern over the social credit system is the proposed application of a unified, publicly available citizen score which ranks citizens based on their life habits. The exact methodology is a secret, but examples of infractions include bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games and posting fake news online. According to their credit, citizens and companies will be punished or rewarded.
Currently, the "unified social credit" calls for the collection and consolidation of information of both citizens and corporations, including the existing national identifications of Chinese citizens. A few regions are currently experimenting with a points system, although they do not offer any regulation systems.
Further concern over the social credit system is compounded by the Chinese government's love of constant surveillance, and introduction of technology such as cameras equipped with facial recognition, body scanning and geo-tracking to cast a constant gaze over every citizen. Smartphone apps can be used to collect data and monitor online behavior on a day-to-day basis. Also internet use and communications, hotel stays, train and plane trips and even car travel in some places, can be tracked. Then, big data from more traditional sources like government records, including educational and medical, state security assessments and financial records, can be fed into individual scores. The whole apparatus is regulated and interpreted by advanced, big-data-crunching AI networks.
The social credit system also introduces blacklisting for both individuals and corporations. Some types of punishments include:
- Travel Ban: By December 2017, 8.7 million people were prevented from taking flights and 3.4 million from taking high-speed trains. While no official reasons were provided, it has been speculated that this is due to the travel blacklist introduced. 
- Ostracism: People with low scores are barred from getting financial credit or government jobs. If the parents of a child score below a certain threshold, their children would be excluded from top schools in the region.
- Public shame: In May 2018, a short cartoon with the photographs of debtors' faces began playing at movie theatres, on buses, and on public noticeboards with a voice-over that said: "Come, come, look at these. It's a person who borrows money and doesn't pay it back." Similar photos of lawbreakers were displayed on big outdoor screens alongside their names and government I.D. numbers.
- Economic roadblocks a low enough credit score can prevent the victim from getting loans or owning property.
The current blacklist include defaulters on court judgments, i.e people who have lost legal cases and appeals, and have not yet served their sentences or fines. They can get off the blacklist by performing their judgments. However, there is a lack of public trust in Chinese courts to give fair judgments and sentences, making it rather easy to get on the blacklist due to their high conviction rates, and high levels of judicial corruptions.
If you are a good little pawn and lick the CCP's boot you can expect a good credit score and some rewards.
- Travel privileges Just like bad behavior can strangle a citizen's freedom of movement if your credit is high enough you will be able to travel outside the country and be given a greater level of trust by hotels.
- Less frequent inspections and audits for businesses
- Fast-tracked approvals for government services
- Discounts on energy bills
- Being able to rent bikes and hotels without payment of a deposit
- Better interest rates at banks
- Tax breaks
- "China through a glass, darkly". China Law Translate. December 24, 2017.
- "China's Chilling 'Social Credit System' Is Straight Out of Dystopian Sci-Fi, And It's Already Switched On". ScienceAlert. September 20, 2018.
- "Leave no dark corner". ABC. September 19, 2018.
- "The odd reality of life under China's all-seeing credit score system". Wired. June 5, 2018.
- "Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens". Wired. October 21, 2017.
- "China has started ranking citizens with a creepy 'social credit' system". BusinessInsider. October 29, 2018.
- "Inside China's Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras". New York Times. July 8, 2018.
- "China's social credit system has blocked people from taking 11 million flights and 4 million train trips". Business Insider. May 21, 2018.
- "Who did China ban from flying?". China Law Translate. March 21, 2018.
- China’s crackdown on a corrupt judiciary has a long way to run. Zhang Jiahui is Exhibit A by Wang Xiangwei (9 Jan, 2021) South China Morning Post.