Intricacies within China’s Social Credit System Beckon More Research
Over the last two years, China has implemented competing corporate-run pilot programs to carry out its plans for a comprehensive social credit system. The method is to nationalize the system by incorporating citizens’ fiscal, governmental, and personal data; the goal envisages “a harmonious Socialist society” within the “Socialist market-economy system”. According to The Economist, the accumulated points of every Chinese citizen aim to “control the individual’s behavior” by accordingly assigning reward or penalty. Specifically, officials expect that the system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step” by 2020.
A higher credit score, for instance, ensures higher internet speeds, greater capacities to get loans, or facilitated processes through which citizens obtain a visa. Punishment for a low one, on the other hand, might include blacklisting and fines. While data from only one of the eight private companies for pilot testing is publicly available (Sesame Credit, an Alibaba Subsidiary), ChinaFile reported that some data is “peculiar and highly specific: playing many hours of video games triggers a lower credit score, while purchasing diapers earns points for responsible behavior”.
Yet, despite the tendency of western coverage of the social credit system as an Orwellian scheme, the Mercator Institute for China Studies has recently published a report on China’s social credit system, characterizing it as the “new and highly innovative” big-data enabled approach to “monitoring, rating, and regulating the behavior of market participants”. While there is a drive within the social credit system to enumerate and monitor the ways in which citizens adhere to laws and social norms, the report suggests that the combined method of data-sharing configuration and traditional economic indicators may improve corporate social responsibility in China.
According to her investigations of the social credit pilots and related issues at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, Shazeda Ahmed suggests that the social credit system in China “is actually one of social credit being about spurring consumerism in a country where people have historically saved more than they’ve spent”. While speculations of how people’s lives are structured according to the adopted measures have been disquieting due to the opacity of the system, Ahmed suggests that more empirical evidence needs to be gathered to “get a sense of how it will spread and be received across China”, and whether people think of the scores as “an inaccurate reflection of their behavior”.