China launched a new social credit system — called Sesame Credit — in October, which has been criticized as Orwellian. The main reason being, Sesame Credit is not just about your finances or credit ratings. It’s much more pervasive.
“A social credit system is an important component part of the socialist market economy system, and the social governance system,” stated part of the official Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020).
Basically, Sesame Credit measures how much you follow the Party line, and awards you for doing so.
“This credit score isn’t just affected by how well you manage credit — it also reflects how well your political opinions are in line with Chinese official opinions, and whether your friends’ are, too,” wrote Rick Falkvinge for Privacy Online News.
And the fear is it will become another tool to punish those who don’t.
Introduced by Chinese IT giants Alibaba and Tencent, Sesame Credit — or a system like it — will become mandatory for all Chinese citizens to be a part of by 2020.
An example of how you can gain credit points, as per the video below, is if you share online an article link from state media. But, if you do something like buy comics from Japan or mention something politically sensitive, you lose credits.
For a detailed explanation of the system, and what it will do, watch this video made by online game experts Extra Credits:
And here is how this system is scary in the hands of an authoritarian regime like the one ruling China.
“[The Government] has also announced that while there are benefits today for obedient people, it intends to add various sanctions for people who don’t behave, like limited Internet connectivity,” wrote Falkvinge.
The more credits someone earns, the easier it is to get a loan or to get the necessary authority to travel abroad, are two examples.
So this online system will have real world consequences.
As the video pointed out, the social network aspect of the system has been made in a way that if you have a friend who has a low credit rating — because of their dissenting views as an example — it affects also your credit score or vice versa.
In a place, such as China, where saving face is important, nobody wants a friend who drags down their scores.
“Imagine the social pressure against disobedience or dissent that this will create,” wrote Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Anybody can check anyone else’s score online. Among other things, this lets people find out which of their friends may be hurting their scores,” he added.
Maya Wang, a spokesperson of Human Right Watch China, told Dutch news outlet deVolkstrandt that she sees “a scary vision of the future” in the system.
“Currently there is intensive surveillance of sensitive groups, such as dissidents, but the social credit system goes to another level. This is an effort of surveillance of all people,” Wang said.