Social Credit System – Where Will Your Data Rank You?
Among US media, at least, it has long been the prevailing view that Chinese citizens are, on the whole, less demanding when it comes to their personal data online, or critical of its misuse; that there is a greater generosity and leeway afforded than in Western countries.
That perception is currently being put to the test, thanks to potential overreach by several major Chinese Internet companies. Titans like search engine Baidu have been accused by consumer groups of using its mobile apps to illegally access sensitive user data, like locations, calls and messages. Similar claims have been leveled at the owners of the WeChat messenger app, Tencent Holdings. In both cases, the companies have denied any kind of spying, yet Baidu has still faced lawsuits. Citizens are clearly not as content as they may have previously been to let organizations be cavalier with their data.
Underlying this seeming shift, according to CPO Magazine, may be the Chinese Cybersecurity Law that went into effect in 2017. This sweeping piece of legislation requires, among other things, that all Chinese Internet companies must store logs and data for a minimum of six months, which leads us right into the concerns about personal data being accessed. Another interesting theory credits the average Chinese citizen’s greater tolerance and lenience towards government overreach, compared to attitudes towards private business. If this has any merit, it could add to the explanation for the recent pushback.
In total, 27 Chinese app companies, including Alibaba, have had allegations of this sort brought against them, indicating service providers shouldn’t necessarily expect complacency from their customers. Especially since, in all cases, the end result of concern is that unauthorized third parties or government agencies will be able to access and use the people’s data.
What stands out to me above all, however, is the horrifyingly dystopian plan for a ‘Social Credit System’, which uses citizens’ information—everything from phone calls to social media posts to finances—to rank and monitor them in an Orwellian hierarchy. Descending beyond parody into sheer madness, this sounds like the dystopian episode of every science fiction series out there. Seriously, The Orville just did something like this in its first season.
That a single tweet or text could potentially lead to censorship or imprisonment should have everyone up in arms, and Chinese tech giants cautious about their next steps.