It sounds like the plot line from an episode of Black Mirror set in a dystopian future, but China’s “social credit” system has already seen over 12 million people slapped with domestic travel bans as punishment for bad behaviour.
Nine million Chinese have been banned from buying domestic flights, and three million more from buying business class tickets in early trials of the scheme, under which citizens are rated on their compliance with social norms and rules. Behaviour that triggered the bans varied from obstructing footpaths with electric bikes to failing to pay fines.
Zhang Yong, deputy director of the China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said the trials were taking place across China’s provinces over the next two years.
The social credit system is based on the government’s phrase “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, and is set to be tested further on the country’s train system from May 1, it was announced last week. From that date violating a new set of transport-related offences listed by the NDRC and China’s Supreme Court could result in travel bans.
Smoking cigarettes in no smoking areas of trains, riding a train without a correct ticket and selling counterfeit tickets were among the offences listed, that could result in 180 day bans from buying train tickets.
Mr Zhang said that the NDRC will “increase the intensity of joint rewards and punishments so that dishonest people will be punished and the faithful will be motivated”.
Those punished under the system will also be shamed online by having their names listed on a train ticket booking website for one week.
Human rights groups are concerned that as the system is fully implemented around 2020, it may widen its use of apps and citizens’ social media behaviour to rate them, including using information about political allegiances. The Chinese government is watching the progress of Sesame Credit: a private credit system run by Ant Financial, a firm affiliated with Chinese retail giant Alibaba.
The system judges users on behaviour such as how long they play video games for and what products they buy online, giving them a ‘score’ that many users share on Chinese social media. A spokesperson for Sesame Credit told The Telegraph that it does not share private user information with the government “unless compelled to do so for legal reasons”.
Johan Lagerkvist, Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, told Wired: “It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist.”
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Article & Image: Telegraph