Chinese social engineering: The Social Credit

Measuring a citizen’s trustworthiness through Big Data

Chinese social engineering: The Social Credit

Leer en Español: Ingeniería social china: el crédito social

The State Council of China revealed the “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System”, a mechanism by which social interaction among Chinese individuals and corporations is regulated upon their Social Credit Score. The measure is made up by the aggregation of someone’s credit score, allegiance to the party, compliance to the law, and quality of social interactions.

China has enormous aspirations for its own future. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was a 6 day congregation where Xi Jinping consolidated his potential long term leadership. The government is looking forward to the celebration of the first centenary of the People’s Republic of China in 2049.

Only 32 years remain for China to become a fully established market economy. Today’s largest challenge for the party resides on the execution of proper social control.

The Asian superpower has 1.379 billion inhabitants, from which 700 million are connected to the Internet. Nevertheless, Internet access has never been uncensored as popular sites such as Gmail, Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are restricted and have been substituted with government approved applications such as WeChat, RenRen, and Weibo in order to maintain social surveillance. The efforts have fell short.

China faces deep trust issues on its transit to a market economy. Bribes are usual, companies sell poisoned food and medicines for underprivileged kids; a vast gray market surfaces day by day. The Washington Post has described the Asian economy as “vast, anarchic, and poorly regulated”.

The government’s mindset behind the Social Credit is that once “trust has been broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere”. Under the 0-1000 score system, a citizen’s capacity to meet his/her obligations could imply the broader or narrower chance to access a competitive interest rate in the bank, good education, and even access to certain social venues.

The two companies behind the creation of the Social Credit Score are Sesame Credit, who teamed up with Didi Chuxing, and Baihe. Together they intend to update already existing algorithms such as the ones used by Alibaba. These configurations today use information such as the timely payments of phone and electric bills, credit history, name, address, preferences, and behavior – such as web queries.

It’s not only that Big Data has teamed up with the Communist Government; Behavioural Economics also plays a substantial role. Today’s Internet is an echo chamber where civilians are offered contents that suit their preferences and nudge the way to dissipate dangerous behaviors to the broader social order. The implementation of a rating system will create feasible threats that will reflect in more law-abiding citizens.

The Social Credit Score is a futuristic and seemingly reliable way to punish those citizens that resist change and to reward those who cooperate effectively. The greatest challenge for Xi Jinping’s structure is to manage the inherent subjectiveness behind single handedly determining the values that make out a good citizen.

Failing to act impartially could tear down not only the planned outline but the entire government’s legitimacy. The party’s bet for the future is risky enough to create a chance to reshape the behavior of a population twice the size of Latin America in less than 35 years.


Latin American Post | David Eduardo Rodríguez Acevedo

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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