Key: Social Credit Systems are the systems that track activities of people nationwide for assigning a suitable score to them. This score will be later used for all the services that they use within the country, essentially to allow or deny the use of services.
Even though the title “Social Credit Systems” does not create an immediate panic attack for you, it’s a sugar-coated way of saying your complete social interactions will be monitored and you will either be rewarded or punished accordingly. This topic became trending a few years ago when the Chinese government revealed their massive CCTV surveillance systems backed by big data analytics tools to generate a social credit score. There were articles everywhere, social media campaigns, both for and against the program.
If we take a moment and try to find similar systems around us, we can find one which is tracking us right away. Here are some of those which we use mostly attracted by the benefits it brings
- Loyalty program cards of brands, shops, restaurants, etc.
- Credit cards from any banks.
- Social media web sites.
- Online shopping websites.
- Free VPN services.
All of these services along with many others didn’t create much privacy concerns since the benefits were higher compared to the data that we are putting under the radar of those companies. Still, it is interesting to know what they track, and use.
- Loyalty cards – Tracks all the purchases and uses customer data for advertisements of similar products and services.
- Credit cards – Tracks financial history, repayment data, and liability to decide on future loans, cards, etc.
- Social media – Tracks user activity and interests to drive advertisement campaigns.
- Online shopping – Tracks user purchases and reviews to advertise or launch products on specific locations.
- Free VPN – Tracks browsing activity to push relevant advertisements.
There might be many more kinds of information being tracked and used by the services that we use day-to-day. So, how this social credit system is going to be more devastating in case of privacy than all of these which we are already using?.
The answer is “There is no user consent”.
If we look at the above list again all of those services that use our data, we have given consent at a particular point to do so. This is not true when you think of a countrywide (or worldwide? Who knows for sure about the future?) Social Credit System. Most of the data is coming from CCTV installations across the country. This is for tracking the social behavior of a citizen. Along with the same, data from different organizations and institutions will also be taken into consideration. There is a lot of confusion and legal issues going on, about sharing these data to the government for the mere purpose of scoring. But as soon as these institutions or organizations start receiving benefits of the scoring system they will be supporting this initiative.
The main reason behind this massive tracking system liftoff is the availability of immense computing power offered by a lot of tech companies at a cheap rate. A few decades back, we have never heard of big data, now the big data analytics is powered by the best and great tech giants across the world. Most big tech companies have their data center located at multiple locations around the world and waiting for huge computing tasks to come in. Any amount and kinds of data you can throw at these systems and it will come up with conclusions very quickly. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are booming as well with the availability of such massive computing power. Those will be put in action on this social surveillance systems to improve its decision quality day by day.
Who will benefit from this?
Since all the scoring data is controlled by the government, they can decide with whom they would like to share it with. But since many institutions like banks, colleges, malls will demand the scoring data in return of the public data they share to the government. It will be beneficial for organizations to decide on whether to give a service or no to a person based on his social score. This score might not be just a single number instead, it will have different behavioral numbers for social interactions, finance, education, etc. Whether these systems will make people show more acceptable behavior socially? We need to wait and see.
What are the risks?
No one will be liking to get rejected at a restaurant for your bad health score which is based on a treatment done halfway across the country. Privacy goes for a toss for every citizen who is being rated. Data security of a centralized system that collects data from almost every nook and corner of the country and safeguarding it will be a mammoth effort. Also, it is difficult to bring up such an infrastructure for monitoring rather than the analysis part of it. Being that said, the current big data analytical systems are not that false proof to analyze CCTV footage and decide on the behavior of the person. If these systems are being used to charge criminal reports against citizens, it might bring up a lot of unsettling arguments about the system.
What is the future?
Whether we like it or not, these systems are going to be necessary and will play a critical role in our day-to-day life soon. All ingredients are ready for such a platform in action. What we can come up with is a new definition of privacy in a world where we are being tracked all the time. This score can result in a future where our travel approval, job offer, college access or even access to the internet will be controlled based on it. Hoping this will bring more goodness to society and culture than troubles, and helps us evolve as better humankind.
Important Note: Not having a social life is going to result in a bad Social Credit Score for you in near future, I recommend you share this post on all your social media, comment on it and save your life 🙂