China's Social Credit System and Western Criticism

In China, there are three new credit rating systems beginning to unfold. Alibaba's Sesame Credit Scoring system, Tencent's credit scoring system, and the mandatory government credit scoring system (which will not be fully implemented and become mandatory until 2020).




Firstly, the mandatory government system is still being developed and it is not entirely clear as to how the system will work, currently the best source of information about it is the State Council planning document which was published and circulated last year.
The document does not provide clear details about how it will work, but it is clear that they will not base it entirely on the finances of individuals. They have indicated that it should be able to measure sincerity and encourage keeping trust and punish breaking trust. While this may not sound like an entirely bad idea, the current credit rating systems from Alibaba and Ten-cent, if they are to be taken as an example of what China's mandatory system could possibly entail, will likely be cause for some worry about an Orwellian future.

The new social credit rating systems in place from Ten-cent and Alibaba are linked to 1.3 billion Chinese citizens' national ID cards, scoring them on their behavior and the activities of friends in their social graph, that is the people which a person identifies as friends on social media. Citizens' credit scores are affected by their own political opinions and the political opinions of their friends. The systems leverage the data which their respective companies have access to using "all the tools of the information age - electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting - to construct the ultimate tool of social control" according to Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst for the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.

The worries and criticism which can be witnessed online against this system is often overlooking the credit rating system in place in western countries. To demonstrate the hypocrisy which arises from such criticism does not fully acknowledge the current situation in which citizens of western countries are in.

To explain the situation better I want to give an example of the methods used here to capture and use data in America.
Let's say you get free offers and services of Amazon Prime, Hulu++, Reddit Gold, and Facebook, which you 'opt-in' to get the program or service. Then everyone gets informed that millions of people have already signed up in the first week of release and you don't want to be left-behind since it is a limited time offer. All the TV shows will have their characters that happily sign up for it or make random mentions of it in their dialogues. The Daily Show will make a few jokes about it to make it seem like it is all in good fun. People that don't want to sign up will be labeled as weird or have something to hide. All of this to sign up to be part of a further intricate network of collection of data, unknowingly this data is funneled to create a credit score of you. HR departments at big firms demand that you reveal your Facebook or credit score to complete your application. At this point, you seemingly have lost the ability to choose to opt-out without even realizing it. Then when people start to express any concern about any abuses or invasion of privacy, they will tell you that everyone had the choice to sign up for it and could have chose just as easily not to, so they tell you that you can't complain now.
This illusion that we create for ourselves that we are any better than a society who is, at the very least, trying to be honest about the fact that they will collect and use data to assess you as the economic being that you are is simply that, an illusion.

I am not here to tell you which method is better by any measure, I am only here to tell you that there is only a difference in how we carry out our credit ratings. It is up to you to choose which is better - a system which gathers data by deceiving you into thinking it is not collecting any data or a system which tells you that it is, in fact, collecting data and tries to outline how that data will be used and what it's use is trying to achieve.

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