China's Scary Social Credits System Should Have Us All Very Concerned

When George Orwell’s disturbing play '1984' hit the big screen staring John Hurt, it whipped conspiracy theorists of the day into a lather, sending sales of tinfoil hats and ‘make your own bug detector kits’ skyrocketing.

While we don’t have the same sort of fascist dictatorship portrayed in 1984, the way in which our personal data is obtained, stored, used and abused would surpass even ol' George’s wildest dreams.

Personal information is the new social currency and your private life is the bank from which corporations wish to draw from as much and as often as possible.

Facebook, for example, is a corporate titan with a core business model that involves attracting users, analysing their data and making users available as targets for advertisers. In 2018, Facebook received revenue of around $39.9 billion just from advertising revenue.

You use your hands but you leave a cyber-footprint. Image: Getty.

‘So what? It’s not hurting anyone.’ Perhaps. Not now at least. But we’re starting to get a glimpse into the scary possibilities of the future. The Chinese government, for example, is seeking to implement a ‘social credits’ scheme, whereby your interaction with various social platforms awards or deducts points which are used to measure how ‘good’ a person you are.

The plan, to be fully implemented in mainland China by 2021, is designed to raise ‘… the awareness for integrities and the level of credibility within society’.

In other words, your interaction with online platforms such as social media would be monitored and scored to assess your trustworthiness and compliance with the government.

Big Brother is watching. Image: Getty.

It’s reported that having a high score will make it easier to apply for loans and jobs as well as improve a person’s ability to navigate the public service. The flip-side is that a low score may result in penalties like lower internet speeds or being denied access to particular jobs, loans and travel visas.

While it’s unclear exactly how the algorithms will work, the general premise is that data will be mined from people’s own accounts as well as their online activities. Platform operators will be tasked with providing the government with ‘packets’ of data shared by users, to build a social profile.

Everything from a persons’ actual location, to their financial position, gaming habits, preferred holiday destinations, shopping history, dating behaviour and more.

This is not science fiction. This is a live policy the Chinese government is actively pursuing.

‘Yeah but it could never happen here.’ Really?

Perhaps we’re getting closer than you think.

Most Android users don’t realise that Google, Facebook and other online giants know exactly where you are at any given time without you interacting with social media at all. They can tell where you’ve been shopping, where you’ve been on holiday, where you work, what time you catch a train etc.

That’s because on Android devices, the ability to track you via your phone under location settings is defaulted to ‘on’. And the device never prompts you to turn it off.

There's no escape. Image: Getty.

Obviously this is not to the same scale as what the Chinese government intends, however, people need to be aware that our personal lives are increasingly becoming a commodity and the only way to minimise the impact is to know your social footprint.

Know how your devices are set up. Be aware of what you are sharing online and how that information could be used.

And if you listen very carefully, you may hear a whispered voice from a small country graveyard in Oxfordshire in the UK calling out, ‘It’s me, Sodcial George. Just wanted to say, ‘I told you so’.