Big Brother is watching you

According to Associated Press, 17.5 million ticket purchases of Chinese citizens were blocked in 2018 for “social credit offenses” such as unpaid taxes or fines. Why is this happening?

What is China's social credit system?

Ratings are not new even if the credit rating system in China sounds utopian at first. We have been already rated for using Uber, Amazon, and eBay but not all of us paid attention to it before. The Chinese state is working on a vast ranking system that will monitor every person and rank them all based on their "social credit."

Announced in 2014 as a plan, the system has been already integrated partly. Chinese government eyes to fully set up the whole thing up to 2020 as a goal to get the rest in place. According to the information provided, you can get a low score or get blacklisted by the government. But there are two different things, and one does not equal another.

What for?

China has serious trust issues within society. Government tries to overcome this problem by personal ranks. There is a document explaining the government's plans because "trust-keeping is insufficiently rewarded, the costs of breaking trust tend to be low."

China already tries out the scheme and some citizens could not travel or attend certain schools due to low scores and unpaid bills.

There is no special pattern to calculate scores yet. But for now we know that the serious violations are driving drunk, frauds, and scam. Smaller violations lead to score lowering and they include playing too many video games, “fake news” spreading, refusing military service.

What does it mean for the Chinese economy?

The ruling party sets the goal to establish the system by 2020. We still do not know how it will be maintained. People, living in China, having a low score can be not only restricted from traveling and importing goods, but miss out government contracts and bank loans too.

The social credit system since it has been activated already made 3.5 million people “voluntarily fulfilling their legal obligations,” such as paying overdue fines, according to the National Public Credit Information Center. And there are 37 people who paid a total of 150 million yuan ($22 million) in overdue fines. Not bad for the state budget.

Is it good or bad?

The system ranks each one in the country from AAA to D based on personal scores. Every adult resident starts off with 1,000 points. Your activity can help you to get extra points or, in opposite, to lose some.

Points can be earned for volunteer work, donating blood, reporting fake products and attracting investment to the city. Points are lost for not following traffic rules, not paying taxes and fines.

Those, holding AAA rating, are rewarded with free medical check-ups, 30 cubic meters of free water a year, discount for bills and more comfortable conditions on bank loans. If you have a weak D score, you will lose access to government subsidies, will be restricted from applying for government jobs and this is not the last and least of the punishments.

The social credit system aims to solve many real problems in the country: fraud, fake goods selling, food quality and public health failures. It is all good but let’s not forget about the political side of this decision.

So, limitations on speech or religious practice are just not acceptable according to the conception of human rights. Moreover, some serious violations, as “endangering national security”, are way too broad and abstract and that is why they cannot be applied arbitrarily.

The way we see the social credit system in China could seem harsh but the government of China has been very decisive in their ways of integration.

Even though it could be a big step for creating a trustful infrastructure, the restrictions of human rights are quite worrying. And if China starts ranking all of the residents, including migrant workers, is there a guarantee that the Western part of the world will stay aside?