In the United States “big data” is a major trend that has been adopted by almost every major retailer in an effort to figure out the precise best way to convince American’s to buy more stuff they don’t need. In China, “big data” is all about population control.
As noted by the Wall Street Journal, various cities throughout China are currently piloting a “social-credit system” that will assign a “personal citizen score” to every single person based on behavior such as spending habits, turnstile violations and filial piety, which can blacklist citizens from loans, jobs, air travel.
Hangzhou’s local government is piloting a “social credit” system the Communist Party has said it wants to roll out nationwide by 2020, a digital reboot of the methods of social control the regime uses to avert threats to its legitimacy.
More than three dozen local governments across China are beginning to compile digital records of social and financial behavior to rate creditworthiness. A person can incur black marks for infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules. The effort echoes the dang’an, a system of dossiers the Communist party keeps on urban workers’ behavior.
In time, Beijing expects to draw on bigger, combined data pools, including a person’s internet activity, according to interviews with some architects of the system and a review of government documents. Algorithms would use a range of data to calculate a citizen’s rating, which would then be used to determine all manner of activities, such as who gets loans, or faster treatment at government offices or access to luxury hotels.
Input data for the social credit system would come from a variety of government sources but would also incorporate social behavior based on things like volunteer activities, academic records, social media usage and online shopping trends.
For initial social-credit efforts, local officials are relying on information collected by government departments, such as court records and loan and tax data. More-extensive logging of everyday habits, such as social-media use and online shopping, lies with China’s internet companies, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
A credit-scoring service by Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial Services—one of eight companies approved to pilot commercial experiments with social-credit scoring—assigns ratings based on information such as when customers shop online, what they buy and what phone they use. If users opt in, the score can also consider education levels and legal records. Perks in the past for getting high marks have included express security screening at the Beijing airport, part of an Ant agreement with the airport.
“Especially for young people, your online behavior goes towards building up your online credit profile,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, “and we want people to be aware of that so they know to behave themselves better.”
Of course, if it wasn’t clear, the objective of the “social credit system”, at least according to slogans printed in planning docs is to ““allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” Seems fairly reasonable…though we suspect there may be some issues surrounding who defines “discredited”…but we’re sure it will be fine.
The endeavor reinforces President Xi Jinping’s campaign to tighten his grip on the country and dictate morality at a time of economic uncertainty that threatens to undermine the party. Mr. Xi in October called for innovation in “social governance” that would “heighten the capacity to forecast and prevent all manner of risks.”
The national social-credit system’s aim, according to a slogan repeated in planning documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
Zan Aizong, a Hangzhou human-rights activist, sees the system, once it’s fully operational, as an Orwellian exercise to keep closer tabs on a populace already lacking basic liberties such as freedom of speech. “Tracking everyone that way,” Mr. Zan said, “it’s just like ‘1984.’ ”
Luckily, a “blacklisting system” has already been created that can seamlessly be tied right into the social credit system. The system is designed to automatically provide “green lanes” for faster access to government services for “well-behaved” citizens while levying travel bans and other punishments on those who get out of line.
China’s judiciary has already created a blacklisting system that would tie into the national social-credit operation. Zhuang Daohe, a Hangzhou legal scholar, cites the example of a client, part-owner of a travel company, who now can’t buy tickets for planes or high-speed trains because a Hangzhou court put him on a blacklist after he lost a dispute with a landlord.
“This has had a huge impact on the business,” said the client’s wife. “He can’t travel with clients anymore.” Added Mr. Zhuang: “What happens when it punishes the wrong person?”
Blacklists will expose offenders and restrict them from certain activities, while well-behaved citizens will earn access to “green lanes” that provide faster government services, the blueprint said. Citizens in jobs deemed sensitive—lawyers, accountants, teachers, journalists—will be subject to enhanced scrutiny, it said.
Penalties for low scorers will include higher barriers to obtaining loans and bans on indulgences such as luxury hotels, according to state-media reports.
But we’re thankful to be living right here in the U.S. where those with dissenting opinions are simply labelled as “useful idiots of Putin” and subjected to an all-out smear campaign by a corrupt mainstream media.
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