Social Credit System

From SI410
Jump to: navigation, search
Credit: Kevin Hong

The Social Credit System is a system being developed by the Chinese government to be rolled out in 2020, aimed to assess and place a score on citizens' and businesses' social and economic reputation. With this standardized system, the Chinese government has been reportedly using it as a basis for punishing blacklisted individuals by denying access to train and plane tickets, and preventing their children from enrolling in certain private schools and universities. Certain information about blacklisted citizens is sometimes displayed publicly as a form or public shaming by companies like WeChat or on billboards.[1][2] Within the government's released plan for the proposed system, they state that its mission is to "broadly shape a thick atmosphere in the entire society that keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful, and ensure that sincerity and trustworthiness become conscious norms of action among all the people." [3] The Social Credit System consisted of two parts: an individual credit score that was being developed in pilot programs, and a blacklist created by courts and businesses. Before 2017, the pilot programs were being outsourced to private companies by the Chinese government, but they have since decided that none of them would receive a contract. [2] Before its nation-wide standardization, enrollment for the credit score will be voluntary. After that, individuals wouldn't have a say in having a publicly accessible profile and score.

Outsourcing Data Tracking

The Chinese government has outsourced pilot projects to 8 different private companies, tasked to track data and issue their own social credit scores on citizens. Of the 8 companies, there is Sesame Credit (Alibaba Corp), Tencent, Baihe, and Didi Chuxing, all owned and operated by major multi-billion dollar Chinese corporations. As of 2017, the government has announced that none of the companies would receive the contract. The government cited concerns of possible conflicts of interest. [2]

Sesame Credit

Sesame Credit Score

According to Wired Magazine, individuals opting in for the program are scored on a scale from 350 to 950 points, being rated on five main factors: credit history, fulfillment capacity, personal characteristics, behavior preference, and interpersonal relationships. [4] Credit score takes into account timeliness in paying bills. Fulfillment capacity refers to one's ability to fulfill contract obligations. Personal characteristics are one's personal information like addresses and phone number. Behavior preference could take into account one's shopping habits. Sesame Credit, being operated by Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), is also an affiliate company of Alibaba, the world's third largest retail and e-commerce site, according to Forbes. [5] Sesame credit admitted to using shopping habits to label and score individuals, categorizing people buying video games as possibly lazy or idle, and a woman buying diapers as a parent that's more responsible and balanced.[4] Interpersonal relationships cover an individuals' choice of friends, whether his or her interactions are positive towards others or the Chinese government. A person's score can also be affected by what his or her peers have to say. In order to convince citizens to volunteer for this system, Sesame Credit provides benefits for those with commendable scores. Perks range from 50,000 cash loans, to VIP check-ins at the Beijing International Airport, to European visas. [4]

Court Blacklists

Ethical Implications

Limited Freedoms

Debtors in China are placed on a public blacklisted, being labeled as dishonest by the government. They are restricted from buying train and plane tickets, or any high expenditures that aren't necessary for day-to-day life. According to Human Rights Watch, Li Xiaolin, a Chinese lawyer, and an investigative journalist Liu Hu, both were abruptly barred from purchasing plane tickets after being placed on the blacklist by a Chinese court. In both cases, the blacklisting was done immediately without warning and any chance for them to contest the ruling. [1] This publicly available information can affect individuals when applying for jobs and for loans. These restrictions have drawn further controversy because of their cross-generational impact; children of blacklisted individuals may be restricted from enrolling in certain private schools and colleges. To avoid government tracking, some individuals have resorted to plastic surgery to hide from surveillance cameras. The Chinese government is states in a policy document, "If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere." [4]

Loss of Privacy

Sesame, owned by Alibaba, monitors users payments through Alipay and e-commerce purchases. Using this information, Sesame is able to create profiles on the users, and attribute judgements of character, like a degree of responsibility or trustworthiness. [6] Baihe, China's most popular dating app with more than 90 million users, partnered with Sesame to display users' social credit scores on their profiles. The trend of publicly flaunting ones' scores, being strongly encouraged by the government and companies like Baihe, are an effort to guide the public to be more open and honest about private information. [7] Citizens placed on government blacklists have certain information displayed online, and have their pictures shown before movies and in other public settings.

Freedom of Speech


Proponents of the Social Credit System argue that it will lead to better civilian behavior and honesty. When asked about its apparent effects on society, Chen, a 32 year-old said, "[When] we drive, now we always stop in front of crosswalks. If you don’t stop, you will lose your points. At first, we just worried about losing points, but now we got used to it." [8] With the courts involved in placing debtors and others deemed "untrustworthy" on blacklists, the government hopes that this would urge individuals to pay up, apologize, and move on. The issue that Human Rights Watch brings argues is that these individuals aren't given a chance to defend themselves in court, and that giving the government so much power can only lead to more cases of abuse. [1]

Misconceptions in Western Media

Vice President Pence said during a speech addressing China's human rights abuses, “In the words of that program’s official blueprint, it will ‘allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.’” Media and news outlets spread the popular narrative that the Chinese government is developing an "Orwellian" system, an "all-powerful score" tied to each individual, used to punish dissidents and abolish any notion of privacy. [2] Much of this has stemmed from dramatization and false information from third-party sources, according to Wired Magazine. The first article covering this topic was published by Jay Stanley for the ACLU, titled “China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are a Warning for Americans.” [2]

Comparisons to Other Governments

In Chile, the Directory of Commercial Information (DICOM) developed during the Pinochet dictatorship, restricted citizens with lower scores from getting loans, buying property, and finding jobs. In Russia, the government plans to digitize the government by documenting individuals' economic successes and failures. In the U.S, individuals gain access to mortgages and loans based on their credit scores. [4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4