China realizes the ‘Black Mirror’ nightmare with its own social ranking system

Nosedive, an episode of the popular science fiction anthology television series Black Mirror, depicts a future in which people rate every person they interact with on a scale of one to five stars. The system of dividing people by class via their social rating ultimately determines where they can live, who they can have relationships with and how they travel. This dystopian fantasy is about to turn into a reality in one of the biggest countries on Earth.

By 2020, China plans to implement a social system of digital credibility, officially referred to as the Social Credit Score or SCS, to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. According to the overall “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)” issued by the State Council, the SCS will focus on four areas: “honesty in government affairs”, “commercial integrity”, “societal integrity” and “judicial credibility”.

Thus, along with its individual citizens, the Chinese government has plans to apply SCS scores to all businesses operating in China. The stated aim is to “provide the trustworthy with benefits and discipline the untrustworthy … [so that] integrity becomes a widespread social value”.


How will the social rating system work for individual citizens?

Every citizen starts with a hundred points linked to their government-issued ID or social media account. If you do something “good”, like volunteer at a charity, recycle trash, donate blood or send messages of praise about the country on social media, your score goes up. If you do something “bad”, like jaywalk, cancel a reservation, leave a dishonest review or befriend someone with a low rating on social media, your score drops. Therefore, the Social Credit System includes not just your financial credit, but also takes into consideration your criminal record and social media behavior.


How will SCS scores affect daily life?

High-scoring citizens may be eligible for free gym memberships, cheaper public transportation, discounts on car rentals or insurance, and shorter waiting times in hospitals.

Low-scoring citizens may incur travel restrictions, slower internet speeds, restricted access to restaurants and limited work or study opportunities. Thus, your behavior could impact your children or your grandchildren for decades to come.

In February 2017, the country’s Supreme People’s Court announced that 6.15 million of its citizens had been banned from taking flights over the past four years for social misdeeds. The ban is being pointed to as a step toward being blacklisted in the Social Credit Score system.


How will the social rating system affect the market?

There is a serious risk that the government could misuse the huge amounts of big data it has access to in order to benefit state interests. The system will use big data technology to constantly monitor and assess the way businesses behave both economically and non-economically, and will assign an automatically updated score accordingly. As a result, rewards for good behaviour and punishments for bad will give the government the power to manipulate the market.

At the same time, it would be fair to admit that the system may help create a level of transparency in the market, forcing companies to act in a more socially and environmentally friendly way.



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