Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

The Chinese government plans to launch its Social Credit System in 2020. The aim? To judge the trustworthiness – or otherwise – of its 1.3 billion residents

But now imagine a system where all these behaviours 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 or not you were trustworthy. 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 can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

.. “It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,”

.. by 2020 it will be mandatory

.. The behaviour 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.

.. In this marriage between communist oversight and capitalist can-do, the government has given a licence to eight private companies to come up with systems and algorithms for social credit scores.

The first is with China Rapid Finance, a partner of the social-network behemoth Tencent and developer of the messaging app WeChat with more than 850 million active users. The other,

Sesame Credit, is run by the Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), an affiliate company of Alibaba.

.. the real star of Ant is AliPay, its payments arm that people use not only to buy things online, but also for restaurants, taxis, school fees, cinema tickets and even to transfer money to each other.

.. Sesame Credit has also teamed up with other data-generating platforms, such as Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing company that was Uber’s main competitor in China before it acquired the American company’s Chinese operations in 2016, and Baihe, the country’s largest online matchmaking service. It’s not hard to see how that all adds up to gargantuan amounts of big data that Sesame Credit can tap into to assess how people behave and rate them accordingly.

.. the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as “a user’s ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations”. The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone’s mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.

.. Under this system, something as innocuous as a person’s shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” says Li Yingyun, Sesame’s Technology Director. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” So the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It “nudges” citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.

.. As the government document states, the social credit system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”... there have been three critical “de-centering shifts” that have altered our view in self-understanding:
  1. Copernicus’s model of the Earth orbiting the Sun;
  2. Darwin’s theory of natural selection; and
  3. Freud’s claim that our daily actions are controlled by the unconscious mind.
  4. .. Floridi believes we are now entering the fourth shift, as what we do online and offline merge into an onlife. He asserts that, as our society increasingly becomes an infosphere, a mixture of physical and virtual experiences, we are acquiring an onlife personality – different from who we innately are in the “real world” alone.

.. Where these systems really descend into nightmarish territory is that the trust algorithms used are unfairly reductive. They don’t take into account context. For instance, one person might miss paying a bill or a fine because they were in hospital

.. Professor Wang Shuqin from the Office of Philosophy and Social Science at Capital Normal University in China recently won the bid to help the government develop the system that she refers to as “China’s Social Faithful System”. Without such a mechanism, doing business in China is risky, she stresses, as about half of the signed contracts are not kept.

.. “The behaviour of the majority is determined by their world of thoughts. A person who believes in socialist core values is behaving more decently.” She regards the “moral standards” the system assesses, as well as financial data, as a bonus.

.. the State Council’s aim is to raise the “honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society” in order to improve “the overall competitiveness of the country”

 

Jailed for a Text: China’s Censors Are Spying on Mobile Chat Groups

Authorities scour private chats on messaging apps for blacklisted words, sensitive images

One night this September, construction supervisor Chen Shouli fired off a joke in a chat group.

“Haha,” he typed on his black iPhone 7, followed by an off-color wisecrack about a rumored love triangle involving a celebrity and one of China’s most senior government officials.

Four days later, he says, the police telephoned, ordering him in for questioning.

“I thought, I haven’t done anything wrong, have I? I’m law-abiding,” recalls Mr. Chen, a wiry 41-year-old. “So I went in. Once I arrived, they wouldn’t let me leave.”

Mr. Chen was locked in a cell for five days, he says. According to the police report, his comment on the WeChat messaging app was deemed “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a broad offense that encompasses gang fighting and destruction of public property and is punishable by detention without trial.

.. Zhu Shengwu was an intellectual-property lawyer in cases involving technology firms such as search engine BaiduInc. before taking on a free-speech case this year. He says that monitoring closed chats is akin to eavesdropping in someone’s home.

.. After he called President Xi Jinping a “baozi”—a steamed dumpling—in one WeChat post, and Chairman Mao a “bandit” in another, Mr. Wang was arrested, court records say. A local court in April sentenced him to two years in prison, a term that was reduced to 22 months after a retrial last month.

.. Mr. Guo says he wants to expose what he calls China’s “kleptocrats” and bring rule of law to the country.

China’s Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People

Tencent and Alibaba are among the firms that assist authorities in hunting down criminal suspects, silencing dissent and creating surveillance cities

The Chinese government is building one of the world’s most sophisticated, high-tech systems to keep watch over its citizens, including surveillance cameras, facial-recognition technology and vast computers systems that comb through terabytes of data. Central to its efforts are the country’s biggest technology companies, which are openly acting as the government’s eyes and ears in cyberspace.

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent HoldingsLtd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

.. The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data,” Alibaba’s Mr. Ma told a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement last year. He said technology will soon make it possible to predict security threats. “Bad guys won’t even be able to walk into the square,” he said.

.. Tencent, the world’s largest online videogame company, dominates Chinese cyberspace with news, video-streaming operations and its WeChat app

.. “Experience has proven that WeChat is completely compromised,” especially for people on the government’s watch list, Mr. Hu said. “Everyone has a spy watching them. That spy is their smartphone.”