Big Brother is Alive and Well in China

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Big Brother is Alive and Well in China

Imagine a world where many of your daily activities are constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay or don’t pay. It's not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to Google, Facebook, Instagram, Fitbit and others. But now imagine a system where all these behaviors are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether you were trustworthy, or not. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children could go to school, or even your chances of getting a date.

Is this a fantasy about of “Big Brother” getting out of control?  No, according to the new book, Who Can You Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart by Rachel Botsman, it's already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (or SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance "trust" nationwide and to build a culture of "sincerity."  As the policy states, "It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious.  It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility."

For now, participating in China's Citizen Scores is voluntary. But by 2020 it will be mandatory. The behavior of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity) in China will be rated and ranked, whether they like it or not.

Prior to its national roll-out in 2020, the Chinese government is taking a watch-and-learn approach. In this marriage between communist “oversight” and capitalist “can-do,” the government will license eight private companies to come up with systems and algorithms for social credit scores...

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