Hello, What Is Your Social Credit Score?

You meet someone new at a party. You say, "Hello, what is your social credit score?" No, even easier than that, you check their score on your phone before talking to them. No, even more advanced, you see their score floating over them through your augmented reality glasses. Wait, let's put that AR viewing capability right into your eyeball.

You don't have such a score now, but you may one day. A Social Credit System is a proposed Chinese government initiative to develop a national reputation system. Though it is still being developed, the intent is to assign a "social credit" rating to every citizen. The score would be based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

If it sounds more like a science-fiction horror story of the future, that was what I thought at first. It reminded me of the 2016 episode of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror which is shown on Netflix.

Reputation systems are programs that allow users to rate each other in online communities in order to build trust through reputation. They already exist on E-commerce websites such as eBay,, and Etsy as well as online advice communities such as Stack Exchange.

Reputation systems represent a significant trend in "decision support for Internet mediated service provisions" such as shopping and advice.

A variation is collaborative filtering which aims to find similarities between users in order to recommend products to customers.

The Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government is meant to rate every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.  If it sounds like a mass surveillance tool using big data analysis technology, that is because that is what it is.

On the surface, it is a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market.

Some might call this "surveillance capitalism." That term (introduced by John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney) denotes a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance.

It was an idea popularized by Shoshana Zuboff who says it emerged due to the "coupling of the vast powers of the digital with the radical indifference and intrinsic narcissism of the financial capitalism and its neoliberal vision that have dominated commerce for at least three decades, especially in the Anglo economies."

It is a new new expression of power she calls "Big Other."  In a reference that might sound like the plot for a new novel combining Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, she feels the concept was first discovered and consolidated at Google, who are to surveillance capitalism what Ford and General Motors were to mass-production and managerial capitalism a century ago.

Facebook and others have since adopted the concept for ways to extract, commodify and control behavior to produce new markets of behavioral prediction and modification.

In that Black Mirror episode ("Nosedive"), people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, and the protagonist is someone obsessed with her ratings. When her rating drops, she panics and goes on a campaign to bring her score back up.

A Chinese app called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score. "Zhima Credit" rates you from 350-950 based on finances and and other factors.

The Chinese government's "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)" focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be "societal integrity." The plans are to have credit scores for all businesses operating in China.

In a news story I heard, it said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored - trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police?

Eight companies were picked by the People's Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

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