Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens, Rachel Botsman, WIRED UK, Oct 20, 2017
"Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It's not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school - or even just your chances of getting a date."
A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it's already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance "trust" nationwide and to build a culture of "sincerity". As the policy states, "It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.""
So just how are people rated? Individuals on Sesame Credit are measured by a score ranging between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not divulge the "complex algorithm" it uses to calculate the number but they do reveal the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as "a user's ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations". The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone's mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.
Under this system, something as innocuous as a person's shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. "Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person," says Li Yingyun, Sesame's Technology Director. "Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility." So the system not only investigates behaviour - it shapes it. It "nudges" citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.
Friends matter, too. The fifth category is interpersonal relationships. What does their choice of online friends and their interactions say about the person being assessed? Sharing what Sesame Credit refers to as "positive energy" online, nice messages about the government or how well the country's economy is doing, will make your score go up.
people with low ratings will have slower internet speeds; restricted access to restaurants, nightclubs or golf courses; and the removal of the right to travel freely abroad with, I quote, "restrictive control on consumption within holiday areas or travel businesses". Scores will influence a person's rental applications, their ability to get insurance or a loan and even social-security benefits. Citizens with low scores will not be hired by certain employers and will be forbidden from obtaining some jobs, including in the civil service, journalism and legal fields, where of course you must be deemed trustworthy. Low-rating citizens will also be restricted when it comes to enrolling themselves or their children in high-paying private schools. I am not fabricating this list of punishments. It's the reality Chinese citizens will face. As the government document states, the social credit system will "allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step".
China today, Daniel Little, Understanding Society, Nov 22, 2017
"There are a lot of opinions about China today in the United States -- authoritarian, farsighted, effective at economic progress, overly committed to Party authority, challenged by the environmental effects of rapid economic growth, burdened by a corrupt and aging party elite. Some believe China is on the path to becoming a dominant super power, while others think that the suppression of individual freedom and thought is a fatal weakness that will eventually spell serious problems for Chinese stability and progress.
Several specific impressions from a recent trip to China leave me with more nuanced versions of several of those thoughts."
whenever you drive into a parking garage in virtually any major city in China your license plate is immediately scanned and stored. This makes it very convenient for parking -- you don't need a ticket and the parking charge is automatically added to your form of payment when you leave. But it also means the state has the tools necessary to create a vast and up-to-the-moment database of the current locations of millions of citizens. This is part of a surveillance system on a truly massive scale. We know how important this kind of meta-data is in the case of phone and email records -- think how much more of a reduction of privacy it creates when your vehicle is tracked from highway to parking garage to surveillance camera on the street. And why does the parking lot scanning system exist? Surely for the purpose of social monitoring and control. Patterns of movement as well as current locations can be analyzed and inferences can be drawn about one's private life, social connections, or current plans. (Is there a concentration of vehicles around a certain address corresponding to membership in an environmental action organization? Is more intensive investigation needed to head off a possible demonstration or protest?) So this small detail -- ubiquitous license plate scanners -- points to a more basic feature of the vision China's leaders have for the relation between state and individual. It is the panopticon.
« Social Credit System » : la gouvernementalité algorithmique à la chinoise, Mais où va le Web, 29 oct 2017
"Avec le « Social credit system », il semblerait que la Chine ait opté pour le pire des deux mondes : l’écrasement de l’individu par la masse, relent d’un système communiste dévoyé, d’un côté, et l’absolutisme technologique individualiste, rejeton d’un système capitaliste décomplexé, de l’autre. Voilà déjà quelques années qu’on entend parler du Léviathan numérique chinois qui attribue aux citoyens – volontaires pour le moment – une note à partir de leurs habitudes d’achat, des contenus postés sur les réseaux sociaux ou toute autre donnée jugée utile. Selon Wired, les mieux notés bénéficient d’avantages en nature (facilité d’accès à un crédit, sécurité sociale, position hiérarchique), les autres sont littéralement punis (interdiction d’accès à des restaurants, débit de connexion internet réduit, etc.). C’est ici une parfaite illustration du concept de « gouvernementalité algorithmique » tel que proposé par l’équipe de recherche d’Antoinette Rouvroy et de Thomas Berns. Quand le pouvoir rencontre le Big Data, c’est toute la société qui change… Creusons un peu."
Le projet de la Chine d’organiser sa société s’appuie sur le « big data » pour évaluer tout le monde, Simon Denyer, 1 Déc 2017
"Imaginez un monde où un gouvernement autoritaire surveille tout ce que vous faites, accumule d’énormes quantités de données sur presque toutes les interactions que vous faites, et vous attribue un seul score qui mesure à quel point vous êtes « digne de confiance ».
Dans ce monde, qu’il s’agisse d’un prêt en souffrance ou de la critique du parti au pouvoir, d’un feu rouge ou d’un manque de soin de vos parents, vous pourriez perdre des points.
Et dans ce monde, votre score devient la vérité ultime de qui vous êtes – il détermine si vous pouvez emprunter de l’argent, amener vos enfants dans les meilleures écoles ou voyager à l’étranger ; si vous obtenez une chambre dans un hôtel chic, un couvert dans un restaurant de haut niveau – ou même simplement obtenir un rendez-vous amoureux."
The Illusion of Freedom in the Digital Age, Mark Leonard, Project Syndicate, Nov 3, 2017
"The biggest danger in the coming years is not that technology will put free and autocratic societies increasingly at odds with one another. It is that the dystopian visions of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley will become manifest in both types of system."
President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power. He is, observers warn, creating an information-age dictatorship, in which the technologies that were once expected to bring freedom to China’s 1.4 billion citizens have instead enabled him to entrench his own authority. By providing the government with highly detailed information on the needs, feelings, and aspirations of ordinary Chinese, the Internet allows China’s leaders to preempt discontent. In other words, they now use Big Data, rather than brute force, to ensure stability.
More than 170 million face-recognition surveillance cameras track every step citizens make. An artificial-intelligence-enhanced security system can spot criminal suspects
a broader anxiety about the ability of tech companies to control the information people receive. With Big Tech’s secret algorithms determining how we perceive the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to make conscious decisions – what philosophers perceive as the basic dimension of free will.
Big tech companies, worth more than some countries’ GDP, seek to maximize profits, not social welfare. Yet, at a time when attention is supplanting money as the most valuable commodity, the impact of their decisions is far-reaching. James Williams, a Google engineer turned academic, argues that the digital age has unleashed fierce competition for our attention
a friend who worked for the search engine Baidu explained to me how the company tries to enhance the consumer experience of censorship, testing the ways in which people prefer to be censored. Jack Ma of tech giant Alibaba thinks that China can use Big Data to design perfectly calibrated state interventions that enable it to outperform free-market economies. In the coming decades, Ma believes, “the planned economy will get bigger and bigger.”
In the digital age, the biggest danger is not that technology will put free and autocratic societies increasingly at odds with one another. It is that the worst fears of both Orwell and Huxley will become manifest in both types of system, creating a different kind of dystopia. With many of their deepest desires being met, citizens will have the illusion of freedom and empowerment. In reality, their lives, the information they consume, and the choices they make will be determined by algorithms and platforms controlled by unaccountable corporate or government elites.