China is in the process of creating a nationwide database of “social credit” in order to not only rate the financial strength of their citizens, but also their trustworthiness.

Unlike the US or UK, China does not have a nationally recognized credit score system. However, also unlike the aforementioned countries, China’s new initiative will not only determine how good people are at paying bills. It will also be used to rate how obedient they are to the state.

Currently, this plan is in somewhat of a beta stage, as eight Chinese companies have set up sites to issue these credit scores.

Possibly the most high-profile of these is called Sesame Credit, a joint venture between Alibaba, Asia’s largest online retailer, and Baihe, China’s largest matchmaking service.

However, neither company will reveal how they determine or calculate the scores, nor will they directly speak to Western media out of fear of losing the lucrative government contract.

Conversely, they will admit that shopper’s purchases will be taken into account. As Li Yingyun, Sesame’s technology director, told the Chinese magazine Caixin:

“Someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.”

This is a very controversial point, as it leaves the door open to the government deciding who can do and buy certain things based on subjective, and possibly stereotyped, life decisions.

From a different angle, this type of credit system is being valued as little more than another authoritarian propaganda tool.

In the extensive government planning outline, the Chinese government states in Article 5, Section 1 that it will actively encourage competition between citizens to work for high scores by incentivizing trust-keeping and punishing trust-breaking.

Many Westerners are beginning to see this as China hiding an Orwellian “big brother” behind the façade of a game. For more on that angle, there is the relatively short, but oft-linked video from Extra Credits on the matter.

Watch: 

As of now, the system is opt-in. However, as part of China’s most recent Five-Year Plan, the “social credit” system, in one form or another, will be mandatory in 2020.

Cover Photo Credit: Danny Mekic’/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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