The government of China is now assigning a social credit score to each of its citizens in an attempt to monitor and encourage good behavior. According to the “social credit system,” first announced in 2014, the intent is to reinforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful,” and “to establish and complete a social credit system, commend sincerity, and punish insincerity.”
Just like credit scores in the U.S., a person’s social score can improve or decline depending on their behavior. How exactly it is calculated and who is doing the calculations is a secret. You can earn or lose points because of infractions such as bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games, not paying rent on time, not paying taxes or other bills on time, and posting falsehoods online.
Do You Travel to China?
For those of us who travel to China on supply chain matters, we should be aware of this social credit system. We may not be ranked or tracked because only Chinese citizens are subject to this, but with new emphasis placed on behavior, we will certainly be watched, and perhaps reported. It’s not uncommon to be followed in China by “minders” or stopped at the airport and questioned; add to this, reporting on bad behavior.
Some of the scoring is run by the Chinese state, while other scoring is run by city councils or private technology companies that have access to your personal data. The program is only partially implemented, but is expected to be fully operational for every Chinese citizen by 2020.
Blacklisting You from Flying or Traveling by Train and Booking Hotels
Nine million people with low scores have already been blocked from buying tickets for domestic flights, according to Channel News Asia reporting in March. Depending on your social score, a person may be banned from getting business-class train tickets or black-listed altogether.
The social system will also punish badly-behaving transit passengers. Cause for social score bad marks include trying to ride the train with no ticket or an expired ticket, loitering, and smoking in no-smoking areas.
People who refused military service are also banned from some vacation holidays and hotels. Low social scores will prohibit you from making hotel reservations or checking in. People with good scores can speed up travel and visa applications to places like Europe.
Slowing Your Internet Speed
If you use a VPN in China to access websites such as Facebook and Google, you already know how slow the internet can be. Direct internet access is slow in China in general, due to filtering by the Great Chinese Firewall. But if your social credit score is low, your internet access will be slowed further. This may come as a result of not paying your bills on time, spending too much time playing video games, wasting money on frivolous purchases, and posting too much on social media.
Initiating or spreading false news, specifically about terrorist attacks or airport security, are also offences resulting in deteriorating scores and slower internet access.
Banned from the Best Schools
You or your kids may be banned from the best schools in China because of your bad social scores. A few universities have already started to reject applicants whose parents have a bad score. If a person refuses to carry out military service, he/she may be banned from enrolling in higher education at all.
Getting a Job or a Promotion
Based on a person’s social score, a worker may or may not get a job or a promotion at a factory. A person you want to hire for your factory may be rejected at least until his/her social score improves. The social system will be accessed by the hiring manager to determine your suitability. Low-scoring people are banned from doing all management jobs.
Your Dog and Your Dates
The eastern Chinese city of Jinan started enforcing a social credit system for dog owners in 2017. Pet owners get points deducted if the dog is walked without a leash or causes public disturbances. Those people who lost all their social points had their dogs confiscated and had to take a test on regulations required for pet ownership.
Even Chinese dating sites post your social score so participants can choose those people with the highest scores.
Bottom Line: Always be on your best behavior in any foreign country and be mindful of local regulations and appropriate actions. In China, the social monitors are watching you.
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