What’s your citizen ‘trust score’? China moves to rate its 1.3 billion citizens

Take George Orwell’s “1984.” Now sprinkle in that episode of “Black Mirror” where characters live in a world in which every aspect of their lives is dominated by ratings.

That’s one way to think about the Social Credit System, a plan that the Chinese government will make mandatory for all its citizens by 2020.

It’s like a credit score system, but instead of just financial information, this one will also pull together a person’s political leanings, purchase history and even their social interactions to calculate their “trust score.”

Chinese officials say it’s a way to influence their citizens’ behavior to benefit society and move their country forward, but others think it’s just the latest step in the country’s long history of state surveillance.

Rachel Botsman has written about China’s Social Credit System in her book “Who Can You Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart.

The World spoke to her about what the plan could look like in 2020.

How a person’s rating could be calculated:

The Social Credit System — I guess we would probably call it, like, a “National Trust Score” — will look at different dimensions of a person’s life. So things that you might expect, like whether you pay your bills on time or your mortgage. But also your purchasing patterns, things that you say on social media and whether those things conforms with the government. Where it gets, I think, very 1984, is it will look at the patterns and the behaviors of your friends and your social connections as well.

The kind of behavior that could bring a person’s score down:

Well I think there’s behavior that you’d expect — if you make a fraudulent payment or something like that — but then there are things that are more subtle. For example, if you buy work shoes or [diapers], you could be seen as a responsible citizen and your score might go up. But if you’re buying lots of video games your score will maybe go down, because people would think that you’re lazy. If you happen to post something on Tiananmen Square, that’s likely to negatively impact your score. This goes beyond the way we think about traditional credit scores, and really gets into your character and behaviors in a way that is quite frightening.


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