Social Credit System (SCS): Big Data Bliss or A Dystopian Rating Programme?

Group 4

Black mirror’s social scoring episode ‘Nosedive’ is becoming a reality in China. Dubbed as the pioneer of digital social-domination in history, China’s SCS will be implemented nationwide by 2020. SCS is a reputation system produced by the government that aims to assess, manage and rate the social, moral, financial and political behaviour of their citizens [1]. Simultaneously, recognizing the trustworthiness of people within the society.

Citizens are tracked in 2 ways [2]:

  1. Mass video surveillance programme.
  2. Interconnected social apps (i.e. WeChat, TaoBao, AliPay) with bank details attached.

Big Data Bliss

“If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in” – Deng Xiaoping. This quote was the ideology behind the Great Firewall of China (GFW); one of the many social control systems done in China [3]. In the context of SCS, the ‘flies’ or drawback here refers to the expense of one’s privacy.

Although the idea of constant monitoring seems intrusive, it is not unprecedented in China. During the Song Dynasty, local spies were placed in every neighbourhood to report wayward behaviour to the state leaders [4][5]. For centuries, China is governed by virtue instead of law. According to Hongzhi, ”governing oneself by virtue can guide one to become noble” [6], hence it is important to enact laws that will guide people’s morals in China for a better society.

Today, local spies are replaced with impartial technologies. Whether we realise it or not, most of our day-to-day activities are being recorded, be it through CCTV when we stroll down the streets or through countless apps as we scroll mindlessly [7]. Utilising the enormous range of data and quantify them into a measurable value of trustworthiness, SCS promotes itself as a ‘behavioral guideline’ for China’s citizens by rewarding the trustworthy (i.e high scorers) and discipline the untrustworthy.

That being said,  implementing SCS is simply giving digital technology a role in existing systems in China and tying them all together. The government’s intention of shaping a virtuous society by retrieving various information to form a comprehensive understanding of one’s habit is supported by Kant’s theory [8].

In a country where one’s credibility is in constant debate, having a transparent scoring system will reinforce the trust among corporates, government and society. The building of positive bonds align with the care ethics approach. This will encourage public participation in future government policy-making, bring common mistrust issues to light and push companies to be more reputable. This includes businesses refusing to pay wages, tax avoidance, scams, food safety, and etc [9]. Decisions made in order to preserve the virtue of honesty – which is decided to be the foundation of good public relation, is classified as morally just from the standpoint of virtue ethics [10].

The reward and punish system nurtures the glory of trust keeping as well as the pains of trust breaking. This not only motivates citizens to be mindful of their actions, but also educate them on being responsible of the consequences. Living in a community that place emphasis on social status [11], the public shaming aspect of SCS will admittedly encourage both moral and law abiding citizens.

Even though controlling the daily routines of billions seem barbaric, this is completely ethical under the framework of stoicism, where self-control and acceptance of any given situation is upheld [12]. In addition, Alexandra Ma explains how initially, righteous acts were carried out due to fear of losing points but later transformed to one’s involuntary habit [13].

A country where criminals and lawbreakers are easily weeded out will produce a safer environment for everyone. Philosophist, Jeremy Bentham’s theory on utilitarianism is in agreement to the aim of SCS, where any moral action considered, should provide happiness to majority of the stakeholders, which in this case being; billions of citizens [14].

A Dystopian Nightmare

“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” – John Perry Barlow. SCS gives the government access to one’s privacy. Social apps in China such as AliPay and WeChat are interconnected [15], and contain personal bank details, thereby easing payment almost anywhere, anytime.

Owning a mobile phone is necessary in this cashless society, but these apps collect data to monitor online behaviour everyday. Currently, participation is voluntary, but it will become compulsory by 2020 [13], which strips both a person’s freedom and privacy. The government’s duty is to prioritize its citizens. It is ethically wrong to discard these fundamental human rights simply because the government believes it would yield better consequences.

Deontology emphasises the value of each human being and their actions, and rejects that the greater good of SCS can justify a smaller harm, hence the SCS should not be enforced.

In 2015, Charney Research [16] found that 35% of companies in China pay bribes to operate. If detected, penalties can be enforced and their reputation will be tarnished. Conversely, the other 65% will be affected due to unfair competition. Utilitarianism believes that the greatest good comes from creating happiness for the greatest number of people. However, more parties will be negatively impacted in this situation, thereby increasing corruption.

The fact that individuals are not in full control over their own score, is unethical. [17] Fundamentally, SCS judges an individual based on their score, which follows consequentialism. If your family or friends post negative comments online, you will be penalized even though you were not involved. A lower credit score suggests that it is your fault even if it was the fault of your social circle. Ultimately, the SCS allows the government to control who you interact with and can predict your actions, which could remove every citizen’s freedom of thought, expression and speech [18].

The SCS has already been misused to silent dissents and ensure the government’s absolute dominance. [2] Liu Hu was charged with a speech crime and blacklisted as “dishonest” after uncovering corruption at top levels of the Party. His actions have affected his family and destroyed his career. Hu should be awarded points based on his actions according to deontology. [19] Having SCS is giving power to an isolated party, with full control over the people in the country, without a moderating system.

Although the system is meant to mitigate corruption, the government has clearly exploited the system for their own benefit, which is against Kant’s theory in making sensible decisions [8], by destroying and segregating lives of those speaking out against the government’s actions.

Initial Decision

After considering both parties, we concluded that SCS should be implemented; supporting the quote: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide”.

60 thoughts on “Social Credit System (SCS): Big Data Bliss or A Dystopian Rating Programme?

  1. Source: Luqman from Instagram
    “Governments are always going to be in control, people will always suffer. Its been going on for centuries and less good will come out from SCS. It is just a way to overpower the government and this will only disrupt the society more. “

  2. “Look, war is a universal language. I know a rogue soldier when I see one. You got a personal stake in this.” – Nicholas Joseph Fury

  3. A very interesting article ! loved the benefits of the system but i do have some concerns with it . they are mainly regarding the mental health of the low scored member of the society from being the outcast as they are pushed to the side due to their past mistakes. It will be a major issues as friends and family will tend to ignore them as they may affect the high score indirectly. Is there away that the government can monitor the mental health of this groups of people and to make them feel slightly more inclusive in the society for the ones who are willing to change?

    1. Wakandaforver*dabs*, that is a good argument you have raised. On the implementation of SCS, most of the “hot” topic discussed are how invasive the system could be or how better the system could improve China’s citizens. Most of the concerning articles have not spoken much about how the low scorers will be mentally affected by it. Aside from the low scores, being in a society where you are monitored to always be your best self may cause some psychological problems that have not been raised.

      When we take an example of students in schools, we have probably come across cases that students become very stressed on worried on maintaining their scores and if they go below their level, the pressure around could lead to going for extreme measures. Do you have any suggestions on how SCS could be improved to avoid the occurrence of such circumstances?

  4. A very interesting read and really does put things into perspective! However, as competitive as the nation already is, implementing this system will inevitably allow the cream of the crops to excel even more, leaving those behind them, struggling to survive, and will only widen the gap between social classes. It is arguable that the SCS will shape the younger generation into people with higher virtue, but this also puts them under the pressure of always having to do the right things which can possibly lead to psychological problems i.e. depression. I guess there isn’t a definite line between right or wrong and that’s where the social sciences come in and have their say. I personally think that this system has to give the people some leeway, and perhaps let the citizens have a say in this matter.

  5. Very interesting article! Surprising or perhaps very unsurprising that China is implementing such a procedure and is very open about its intent to track the everyday lives of people. As you mentioned at the end, it may filter out the bad eggs but in my opinion will result in the rest of the population living in fear because what me seem as bad/illegal to someone may be perceived as normal to someone else from criticising the government on social media to even littering on the streets.

    1. It is a good thing that the government is so transparent about how the system is going to work, this contributes to people trusting the government to a certain extent. I agree that criticizing the government on social media is very normal for most people nowadays. I personally would support this act if the government did something very wrong that affected the country. As for littering, most of us are aware that the mother earth is in bad shape and reducing litters on the street is a small step that everyone can take. Moreover, most people would love a clean street.

  6. I guess my main concern about this system is not just about the invasion of privacy, but also about how morality is often subjective. Our everyday actions aren’t easily classified into good or bad. The reasons behind our actions should be taken into account.

    In addition, to what extend is the government able to monitor the actions of all citizens? I’m guessing CCTVs aren’t installed into the homes of citizens, so does that mean that a man who has great ethics outdoors but abuses his wife behind close doors can walk around freely? There must be some kind of loophole to this system where citizens can still commit crimes undetected, and often, these are the worst kinds of crime.

    On a side note, great article! I enjoyed reading it 🙂

  7. SCS is very similar to Big Data. It is very difficult to draw the line from when it is too much data collected from a person until it becomes intrusive.

    For china, they have taken an absolute authoritarian role for their country. They believe in micro managing everyone’s lives with the constant monitoring devices as mentioned above. The SCS forces people to become fake people in some sense.
    Those who originally are nice, and does good deeds will benefit greatly from it.
    But those who don’t, will be penalised heavily as seen from the Black Mirror episode.

    This might create a fake society where people are only acting nicely to each other for the sake of generating sufficient credits for themselves. Humans by nature, are selfish creatures and would only do good for their own benefit.
    While some may disagree by stating there were good natured people in the world such as Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, I do believe the mass majority are not.

    The SCS system would only exarcebate this. THe article stated it might become an involuntary habit afterwards, but how long would it take until people change for the better?

  8. I’m against your said initial decision. It is not the matter of the good outweighing the bad, its a matter of individual’s rights. Every single human being has the right to their own privacy especially on social media and with an ever growing technological world they should have the right to what they own (online data) and to keep it to themselves. Having the SCS will infringe on the basic constitution of human rights, to have the right to their own privacy.

    A good point mentioning that the SCS can be used to monitor and reduce corruption in the business world, but what would stop individuals from abusing the SCS via hacking. This would allow hackers to easily access billions of phones, billions of bank accounts, throwing the world into a technological apocalypse. Having the government to solely manage the SCS would be ideal in a perfect world, but corruption exists everywhere. Why develop something that can be easily be abused by the corrupt?

  9. What types of data are to be collected for China’s SCS, and who is entrusted to do this work? Do they need to be above some arbitrary credit number to be tasked with something as meaningful as someone’s private data?

  10. Cool read. Just wanted to know: China’s banning people from buying tickets etc, apparently banning 23 million from buying travel tickets as of March 1st according to the guardian. Do you think this is a smart move, considering the loss of revenue? Do you think there are better solutions?

    1. From an economic point of view, the country generates profit in many other ways, for example; manufacturing products for most of the countries in the world, but yes, they would make a loss from banning so many people from traveling. However, the main goal of introducing SCS is to produce a virtuous and integrated society, profit probably comes second. When a virtuous society is partially developed in a few years time, revenue will come with it. This might be a short term loss, but if SCS does work, the country will benefit in the long run. Hope this answers your question!

  11. Nice article! I’m thinking though, after some research I’ve found that the government isn’t saying much on the ‘backend’ of the system. What are you views on the government’s lack of transparency in how the system actually works? Why isn’t there a main website explaining exactly how the algorithms function, so that citizens do not get wrongfully punished? Hoping for a reply 😀

  12. Lin Hu’s case is so sad. ‘Blacklists’ aren’t entirely foreign to us in the West as many countries have lists tracking extremist groups. One difference between China and the West is that Western law states that punishment has to be proportional (proportionality rule of law). For instance, if you are a known sports hooligan, who disrupts match, you might get banned from entering sporting arenas, but you can still board flights and send your kid to school, etc. However, Chinese systems increasingly employ disproportional sanctions, such that failure to comply with the law in one area leads to restrictions everywhere. What are you views on the morality of this? Do you think something needs to change, or is it good like this? You’ve stated that you agree that this system should be implemented, but isn’t this a glaring negative? Also, if you were to change aspects of the SCS, what would you alter? Best of luck guys!

    1. The restrictions mentioned in the article are restrictions to first class services and flying abroad. Their kids are still allowed education as it is compulsory up to a certain age. However, they have limited choices to everything they do. China citizens look highly upon their social status, hence using these tactics makes introducing the SCS effective.

  13. Interesting, thought-provoking article. I’m wondering, to what extent is China’s social credit system a framework for moral behaviour? In addition, do you envision other Eastern countries, or even Western countries adopting a system such as this?

  14. SCS would create a uniform society with no variations. It’s difficult for me to trust governments with political agendas to handle my privacy.

    1. What if the corrupted ones were eliminated and your personal information is encrypted? Would you still entrust the system with your data just as you would allow Facebook and other social media platforms? Facebook has sold personal information and maybe you do not, but many trusted Facebook and still uses this social media app to date.

  15. In my opinion, Im against this idea because china is an aethist country that trys to implement and create a god module which shows the conflicts. Also, this system will make people act in a fake way rather than their real way of passion and motivation

  16. I admit— although the SCS has quite a few benefits security wise, I’m afraid to say I don’t support it. Regardless of who you are, some sort of privacy is still necessary.

    Another thing that rubbed me off the wrong way with the SCS is the point deduction system. Having one’s points deducted because of someone else’s actions seems quite unfair. For example, let’s say, one of my uncles happens to be a child molester, I’ll still end lose points because I happen to be associated/related to him?

    Those things aside, what guarantee do we have that (corrupt) rich people will not find a way to abuse their power? They could still bribe people for their credits— and therefore appear as moral citizens when that is far from the truth.

    1. What if your information is encrypted just like on social media? Would you support this system then?

      I am siding you on the deduction of points due to someone else’s action. Not everyone wants to be related to certain people and they do not have a choice on that. There should not even be a deduction of points on who you interact with because I do believe this will bring social status back to live, but replaced with scores.

      If the system is controlled by the government but an organization with fair means, bribery will unlikely happen as it is recorded in the system.

  17. In my opinion, some kind of monitoring is not so bad, but in this case, it is kind of excessive.

    1. True indeed, if you were to conduct the system, how would you do it and what would you change?

  18. Gary, I agree with your opinion on this matter. However, it is no different in today’s society without the score. People who just got out of jail too struggle until they meet people who are nice enough to offer them a job and temporary place to start again. With the credit score, the low score is just temporary as they can work their way up by doing good and contributing to the society, soon any ban on them would be lifted.

  19. I personally disagree the SCS or your past actions is not capable enough to judge how noble you are right now. A single number cannot represent how creditable you are. Many people before they commit crimes, they might have high credibility. On the other hand, one person might been in jail before and he wants to be a good and doing right thing, however he might not able to survive on society because he had low social credit.

  20. First of all, this article introduced me to Black Mirror! secondly, brilliant article. well explained to someone with little to no technical knowledge.

    From the first paragraph, I was very sure that I would be against this system but to my surprise, I like how you made me change my mind from against to supporting it and back to against and ends with a provocative sentence in the conclusion. I am completely on the fence now.

    I read more regarding this issue out of curiosity to see what other people think about it. I found out about the things you can do that will result in a deduction in point such as playing too much video games. That made me think that the system is too objective. how much is too much? what if playing video game is your living. lets say you’re a youtuber. do you get points because you are doing work or lose points because the system generally says so.

    That is all for now, thank you.

    1. Good question. Since the SCS will be implemented nationwide by next year, I am assuming that they do have a guideline and boundary set for this matter. Knowing a few highly ranked Dota players representing the country, I doubt they will be penalized for playing too many games as their occupation is recorded in the system and is recognized. The system is so complex that everything is interrelated.

    2. Thank you and great input! Your question opened a new door of perspectives for me, personally. Are people staying overtime in offices considered as a dedicated worker? Or are they slacking off during official office hour? What if they genuinely enjoy working overtime but at the same time neglecting their families at home? How does the rating system come into place in such situations?

      So much possibilities and loopholes that I never thought of before.

  21. This is a very good article, an excellent topic to discuss. All four social theories are relevant here and, in the For section, were discussed.
    Ultimately, the issues, for me are:
    1. Who watches the watchman? Are those who set up and monitor the system held to the same standards?
    2. Gamesmanship – will individuals develop ways to exploit the system, either to boost their own score, or, as seems more likely, to discredit another? Could someone, for example, use this system to hurt an ex-partner?

    1. I was wondering the same thing, but no sources mentioned the watchman of the system. In the last 2 paragraphs of “A dystopian nightmare”, it was mentioned that the government has exploited the system and SCS is basically giving the government full control without a moderating system. As for gamesmanship, this is interesting as it did not come across my head when I was reading the article. It is possible in this era as technology is so advanced.

  22. I believe that SCS is truely a upcoming phenomena, like it or not, our society will rely on AI to rank and judge people. SCS makes a country’s citizens take responsibility to their actions,online or offline.

  23. It looks like SCS have an essence of communism where social status and money does not matter. It is good indeed to disregard social status, ethnicity, etc.. when it comes to justice, as it gives credit to the person’s real merit. Presumably, SCS seems to be the ideal way to discipline people, yet this is not always the case if the government itself or the regulators of the system are corrupt. This can be paralleled with how clean or corrupt the police and justice systems are. Additionally, when it comes to ethics, it is definitely a privacy invasive way of crediting people’s doings. As previously commented it would be good to maximise the positive things about SCS and minimise the bad sides of it, as we don’t want to become an emotionless society. As well as be able to have a freedom of speech and opinion

    1. If there was a way to eliminate the corrupted ones, the country would have achieved milestones using SCS. I do agree that society has become rather emotionless with technologies consuming us every day. In the current world, freedom of speech is preached everywhere that the citizens’ scores should not be affected by the opinions they have in mind. Instead of deducting scores for having an opinion about the government, maybe SCS could be used for anti-bullying and preventing people from committing suicide?

  24. This article does a good job in briefly explaining what SCS is, as well as the pros and cons.

    I think SCS is a good way to keep track of the population, especially one as huge as China’s.It could encourage people to think before they act and perhaps do more good as they are constantly being monitored. However, it is at the expense of one’s freedom and privacy, which I believe are important in a functional society. Control the citizens too much, and you’ll probably end up with a mindless herd of humans or a resistance movement. I also think that the government will always try to protect their best interest (be it legal or illegal) so it’s not a surprise to find the government themselves exploiting the system (e.g. Hu’s case).

    1. Thank you for the insights!
      Correct me if I’m wrong but you are suggesting that SCS could be a wise decision yet the idea of being control is what ultimately decides that SCS is not the right system after all.

      But seeing how sacrificing one’s privacy is what makes SCS the way it is, how would you improve the system to be more acceptable?

  25. Basically this is a classic case of technology and ethics in society, which goes hand-in-hand. Need to look at it from 2 different angles. One, as a practitioner in the big data analytics arena, this is one such great use-case. collecting and gathering all sort of information form various mediums as mentioned in the article, and come up with some kind of prediction and analysis on the person or society as a whole.

    On the other hand, whether these activities are ethically correct or justified from the point of the society. For this one, it boils down to what the authority (chinese govt in this case) intended to do with it. It is rightfully justified in the article of their intentions, i.e to reduce corruptions, etc etc etc.

    However, with the SCS or not, we are actually being scored from we were born. In school thru uni, we have grade systems. We also have driving merits if i’m not mistaken and credit scoring history and etc. So for the society to be ‘afraid’ of the scoring system is to me a bit unnecessary. Furthermore, we are the one that give out our information willingly to social media like facebook, instagram, etc etc.

    Btw, back to local front. Until recently i was involved in the project, to architect the Risk Assessment Module. As part of it, everybody that is going thru our border will be given a score based on certain parameters. and yes, the plan is to check the social media too.

    As a conclusion, to me the SCS is a great use-case for Big Data. Ethically, it boils to the intentions of the SCS.

    1. Thank you for the brilliant thoughts!
      It is indeed true; we have and always will be judged throughout our lives.
      But speaking of intentions, if you were to be among the stakeholders, how would you suggest the system could be improved in order to keep the government ‘s intention in check.

  26. I believe SCS is a good thing to behave society as a whole. Especially China with their governing philosophy. How about the governing body that monitor their citizen personal live. How we can ensure they will continuously being just? Does the same consequences applied to them if they committing wrong or they could easily bribe their way out since they are the one monitoring the system. Are we ready to forgone the freedom of speech and though, just because to being a perfect good guy, who don’t making any mistake at all or cannot being criticized. Or worse becoming a society without any expression and emotion just like in the movie “The Giver”.
    It’s like becoming an ant, follow what the queen told to do. Nothing more, nothing less.
    Let’s think about it.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment amirul.

      Interesting questions being raised indeed. Surprisingly, there aren’t many info regarding how the system works behind the scene, given that the system is being implemented less than a year from now. We would love to hear your theories and further thoughts as in the beginning you did support SCS. If you were to be the stakeholder yourself, what would you have to say? Is it still a yes? or a no

  27. Do correct me if I am wrong but, wouldn’t the offenders of the law need to get caught first in order to then update the SCS system? If that’s the case, I don’t think that the people who do felonies like bribery and tax evasion would bat an eye to the new system. If they aren’t caught now, some scoring system surely wouldn’t stop them from carrying on their illegal practices.

    1. The SCS system is a pilot system. With the 200 billion CCTVs installed, it is bound to detect any offenders of the law. I do agree with your standpoint on discrete law-breaking actions on papers. However, the system tracks every detail but I do understand that not every huge transaction made are bribery cases. Makes me wonder how they regulate this too.

  28. This article provides a very good explanation on what SCS is and how it is used. Although it is legal and the supervision is a norm in the Chinesse society, the government should make an effort to make it more fair to people. It is still unethical and should not be implemented. If calling out corrupted leaders a crime why bother creating this system on the first place?

    1. I agree with this. The government should find ways to balance out the benefits and drawbacks of the credit system. If the system is in itself corrupt, it seizes to function to benefit the society in which it operates in.

      1. SCS will also make the government more transparent and reduce corruption within society. SCS will not overlook political affairs and judge everyone party equally, thus; middle-class, high-class, companies and the government.

    2. Social credit system is meant to call out the corrupted leaders for you! Just like how a person who violates the rules, the corrupted leaders will pay a price for corruption.

        1. I agree that the government have used their power in this situation and if SCS was a system not run by the government, Liu Hu would have gotten points for uncovering the truth. The problem is the Government, not SCS. SCS is expected to correct the government too and make it better. If the system is implemented as meant to.

        2. That situation proves that because the system is controlled by the government, its sole purpose would be to protect their best interest.

      1. Yes but how does a corrupt leader who accepts bribes or businesses who evade taxes get punish in the same system as a person who posted a negative comment on social media. They needs to be fair and just punishment for each offence. The SCS should be a way for people to put there actions into perspective but should have means to punish them in relation to the degree of their offenses.

        1. I very much agree to this. If the government controls the system they should atleast set the punishments baised on the weights of the crimes conducted. No priorites should be given!

          1. Yes the governemnet should punish the corporations more to set an example and lower the punishment for tge minor offenses

      2. If that is the case then the corrupt leader should be taken out of power and not simply getting point on their credit

      3. The system should be designed to ensure that the citizens follow the law and feel an obligation to contribute to the society. However if the system also points out the leaders who created the system are breaking the law, doesnt that undermine the entire system and they reason why it was implemented?

      4. Also dont you think that the strict laws and surviellence will actually make the citizens want to rebel even more?
        The SCS doesnt casue any solution to why people commit crime. They should focus on improving the economy and generating more job opportunities for people so they dont have to break the law.

        1. SCS will close the income gap and help low-class citizens get promoted as equally as other citizens. If SCS favours the needy, why would people want to rebel? As a developing country, China still has a huge income gap and the rich tend to control over, which leaves the middle class unemployed or unpromoted. SCS will help in fast track promotion and hopefully solve all the obstacles raised on the economy.

  29. Although this article discuses all the pros and cons for the SCS, it would be useful to offer some recommendations on how the government could make the system more ethical and fair in order to benefit all the parties involved. This could help minimise the damages associated with the unethical credit system while still effectively enabling citizens and businesses to benefit from the credit system.

    1. Thank you for your point, I do agree with you, however, on the government’s point of view, it does not seem unethical. Implementing SCS is meant to improve morale and help citizens find better versions of themselves. This will help companies and citizens in general. Also, the rewards SCS provides for high scores gives better opportunities to people. I think people just tend to view things from a bad perspective while it would still benefit them.

      1. It is evident from your article that the benefits do outweigh the consequences as it reduces the correpution and increases the stability in the society. However it is also neccessary for the government to address the unethical aspect of the SCS as it does cause an adverse effect on people by violating their human rights.

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