China Looks To Quell Dissent With 'Citizen Scores,' A Number That Tracks Purchases, Opinions And Social Circles

from the not-free-men/women;-just-numbers dept

China’s plan to control the hearts, minds and internet connections of its citizens continues unimpeded. That’s the great thing about authoritarian regimes: rollout of mandatory programs is usually only a problem of logistics, not opposition.

The Chinese government has mandated a rating system for all of its connected citizens. It looks like a credit rating but goes much deeper than just tying a measurement of financial risk to a number. It’s a way of defining who someone in terms of the government’s desires and aims. And its desires aren’t all that honorable.

Everybody is measured by a score between 350 and 950, which is linked to their national identity card. While currently supposedly voluntary, the government has announced that it will be mandatory by 2020…

In addition to measuring your ability to pay, as in the United States, the scores serve as a measure of political compliance. Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like, such as about the Tiananmen Square massacre that the government carried out to hold on to power, or the Shanghai stock market collapse.

This is where all the government’s moves towards greater control of the internet comes to fruition. To keep “score,” the government needs to tie IDs to online activity. Keeping the internet within the government’s walls makes it that much easier. But it’s not just online activity that will affect “citizen scores.” It’s almost every aspect of their lives.

Also used to calculate scores is information about hobbies, lifestyle, and shopping. Buying certain goods will improve your score, while others (such as video games) will lower it.

Chinese citizens who want to remain in the government’s good graces will need to balance “negative” purchases with offsetting positive purchases, most likely domestic electronics and appliances.

As disturbing this is, the truly horrific aspect of the “citizen score” is that it can be influenced by friends and family members.

It will hurt your score not only if you do these things, but if any of your friends do them. Imagine the social pressure against disobedience or dissent that this will create.

The Chinese government is introducing a caste system — one that will result in the shunning of people who can’t be bothered to keep their dissenting opinions to themselves… or just enjoy certain leisure activities. Certain people will be considered too harmful to hang out with, thanks to the government’s mandatory “citizen score.” And with anyone able to check anyone else’s “score,” the pressure to ostracize low scorers will be greatly magnified.

Most disheartening is the fact that many citizens seem to view higher scores as status symbols.

Sadly, many Chinese appear to be embracing the score as a measure of social worth, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

The government’s program feeds on the natural competitive desires of human beings. There may be no official leaderboard (YET!) but with millions of easily-accessed “citizen scores,” anyone can enter this unofficial score-measuring contest. The government obviously realizes this, as it has tied perks to certain score tiers.

Those with higher scores are rewarded with concrete benefits. Those who reach 700, for example, get easy access to a Singapore travel permit, while those who hit 750 get an even more valued visa.

Klout, but for controlling the hearts and minds of a large populace.

And just in case anyone wants to feel superior about China’s decision to grade its entire populace on a mandatory curve, let’s not forget that employers and loan providers are using applicants’ social media interactions to determine their worthiness — including who they’re friends with and what those friends are posting to Twitter, Facebook, etc.

The US government may not be calling for a “citizen score,” but there have been pushes for a national ID, and government agencies are certainly using the same hiring “tools” as the private sector when considering job applications. The US government hasn’t made many direct assaults on dissent, but it does perform a lot of this same tracking behavior in the interest of national security — what with the TSA asking for bids on social media mining software and the DHS suggesting retailers voluntarily report “suspicious” purchases.

The Chinese government, however, is sending an implicit message to its citizens with this program: conform or be cast out. The smallest of carrots is dangled and members of the public — in the interest of maintaining their own high scores — will act as the stick.

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Comments on “China Looks To Quell Dissent With 'Citizen Scores,' A Number That Tracks Purchases, Opinions And Social Circles”

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64 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

As disturbing this is, the truly horrific aspect of the “citizen score” is that it can be influenced by friends and family members.

Remember in North Korea the whole family of someone the government doesn’t like gets screwed. You know, bad genetics or something. It is amusing that a big chunk of the world condemns North Korea e Co but can’t stop doing business with China who does basically the same thing but glosses it with tight media control and a whole load of money. I would guess that the average Pyongyang citizen also doesn’t see any problem there and actually likes the government. Propaganda does wonders, the West knows it well.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why do you think that would seem odd to Westerners? In my section of the “west”, the extended family unit is considered much the same for the most part.

If you want to divide “east” vs “west” on this point, the division would be that in the US, anyway, we tend to think that the government should butt out of family business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The concept of arranged marriages might be considered a key dividing line between Eastern and Western sensibilities. It makes perfect sense from the perspective of forming strategic alliances between clans and/or preserving family wealth, and hence strengening families (at the cost of individual “freedom” as we define it).

European royalty traditionally had arranged marriages, of course, but the practice certainly did not extend all the way down through the peasant classes, as it did farther East.

Fundamentalist Mormons still have arranged marriages, and the government has been working hard to put a stop to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

And perhaps a married couple daring to ask the government for permission to have a second child will be a heavy strike against their Citizen Score.

But this is not really about “authoritarian regimes” as much as it is about an ingrained culture of obedience that goes back to ancient times. For instance, while the average Russian (and especially East-European) chafed against the authoritarianism and censorship of Communism, the Chinese hardly seemed to mind it – or even take much notice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

All the more scary, it is.

Social control is a massive no-no in a country where the people are expected to live by human rights in the future. I see the culture and can see where it comes from, but there needs to be a softening from the current cultural national conservativism there to be able to handle ie. Hong Kong, Uyghur and Tibet under the same sun…

Anonymous Coward says:

and we aren’t heading in the same direction? the governments in just about every supposed advanced nation, the ones that, again supposedly, puts the people, their privacy and freedom at the top of the list, are getting closer and closer to the example that China and others put out and they think nothing of it, using the ridiculous excuses of ‘keeping us free’! what absolute bollocks! they are turning their respective countries and ultimately the world, into one that is run by the elite, for the elite, with records of everything about everyone! in other words, they are turning the planet into a dictatorship, a giant corporation and one which we wont ever get away from!

Anonymous Coward says:

China to be the first nation to mandate Peeple

Of course, China has the means of “fixing” the issues we all pointed out with Peeple — if people abuse the system, they and their family get a visit from the government to have their attitudes adjusted.

And yes, this post was made to spark discussion, disagreement, and make people think.

Erbo (user link) says:

The Chinese government, however, is sending an implicit message to its citizens with this program: conform or be cast out.

And now I’m hearing Rush’s “Subdivisions” in my head.

But isn’t that what China seems to be turning itself into? “Opinions all provided, the future pre-decided / Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone / Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone…”

(Obligatory YouTube link)

Anonymous Coward says:

If this were introduced here...

I would wear the lowest score as a badge of honor (except for maybe the bad credit rating). It seems that a low score is a sign of someone not afraid of embracing and trying other things than people say you should, which I often find very healthy.
Progress is usually made by people outside the norm.
How many with a low rating will suddenly dissapear, I wonder?
Whether by the government or family/”friends” who want to look good and is annoyed by that black sheep.

limbodog (profile) says:

Using a low score as a badge of honor

There’s a distinct problem with that. It is that China is inexorably tying your credit rating and your political rating together. You may be happy to sacrifice a good government rating, but then you find that your home loan gets declined, you aren’t able to buy a car, and you get let go from your job because your score is too low and they don’t want you making them look bad.

It’s really really creepy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Using a low score as a badge of honor

And here in the US, it’s the other way around. The government has forced the home loan industry to be so politically-correct that loan officers are practically forbidden from making decisions based purely on statistical data. For instance, common sense would dictate that if loan defaults are extremely high in certain parts of town, then steps are needed to offset these risks. However, it would be illegal to discriminate in this or any other statistically-appropriate fashion, in the interest of “equal rights.” The 2008 banking meltdown was caused (in large part) by this sort of government meddling.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Using a low score as a badge of honor

The market intervention only affects the bank of first contact (the local bank). It doesn’t force outside banks or secondary investors to buy mortgage bonds in a “nondiscriminating” way, nor does it determine their price, nor does it mandate hiding zip codes or other facts about the mortgages. In other words, your argument gets washed away by the rushing waters of the brutal and savvy free market after the very first step in the sales chain. And without the sales chain — no mortgage credit bubble.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Using a low score as a badge of honor

So you advocate for racism and bigotry – got it.

What I was asking for is examples of the inevitable excuses that will be run up the flag pole just to see if anyone salutes. For example, a “Statistically Appropriate” response to someone of color with their hands in the air would be to draw your weapon and fire. Or maybe just follow them around the store because they are only there to shoplift. These actions would be rationalized via statistical data that says this person will commit x and therefore y is justified, just fill in the blanks with whatever you like.

Figures don’t lie but liars figure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Interesting approach towards the social engineering/control of citizens. I always thought taxes were the more reliable method (look at where you shop for a sampling) but this appears to take it to a whole new level.

I can’t wait to see some of the reasons on how a citizen’s score is lowered.

1. Paid 2015 taxes before 15APR = +50CP (citizen points!)
2. Called out sick due to flu [date redacted] = -5CP
3. Voted in [city name redacted] elections = +75CP
4. Criticized IRS on [name redacted] website = -10CP
5. Criticized CitizenScore.gov via email = -10CP
6. Told CitizenScore Agent to [expletive deleted] himself when asked about email to CitizenScore.gov = -25CP
7. Purchased 2016 [make/model redacted] vehicle = +15CP
7a.Vehicle purchase method: USD (cash) = -10CP
8. Purchased carton of [name/date redacted] cigarettes = -10CP
9. Purchased carton of [name/date redacted] cigarettes = -10CP
10.Stated CitizenScore was [expletive][expletive] = -25CP
11.Stated CitizenScore was [expletive][expletive] = -25CP
11.Told CitizenScore Agent [your] goal of 10CP was achieved = -10CP

Digitari says:

everyone forgets.......

when the US Gov. was set up it was impossible for input/feedback, like we have today, if everyone is ID’d then we have no use for a congress and senate, think of the money we’d all save, and bribes and bought legislation, will be a thing of the past. We all could vote on everything on whatever connected device. I think this is awesome!!!

MSHQ says:

“The US government may not be calling for a “citizen score,” but…”

Not publicly, but they are almost certainly doing similar things. They are collecting the same data. They are feeding it into predictive algorithms to classify people according to threat levels. They may be focusing on “propensity for political violence” at the moment. But the infrastructure is already all there. It only takes a bit of tweaking to make it score you for “acceptance of government authority”. Who is really going to stop them from doing this? This is the inevitable, logical conclusion to government mass surveillance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just another game to play

This sounds like fun.

If you play angry birds, you don’t generally feel any animosity towards pigs, you just shoot the birds to get points. If you play civilisation, you don’t genuinely believe that wiping out other cultures is a good thing in real life. If you play tetris, you don’t feel any particular desire that long blocks should be orientated up and down.

(Admittedly, we all remember the 90s plague of people jumping on turtles, but anyway …)

This is just another game where you try to maximise your score. You learn to say the right words in the right way, and no one can tell whether you genuinely mean it or if you are just using a slingshot to fire a bird at a pig.

Real class in game playing is then trying to refute negative opinion, but doing a bad job of it, thus publicising it: @AnonCoward says that @GloriousLeader is corrupt for accepting all those bribes from developers, but @GloriousLeader has been a wonderful leader bringing much development to our country. #WonderfulDevelopment

happy hacking!!! says:

follow the rabbit neo

great! gamification of tyranny!!!

imagine the boom in the internet services branch: this will result like any other MMOG!
you can buy cheat codes on ebay,
you can hire chinese prisoners to blog and click with you account to raise your score,
you can hire hackers to instantly clean your score for an urgent Visa…

you can have a raspberry online clicking your score up, via random AI algos (while you work/sleep)

can a script kid create bots to fuck the scores of the chinese inner circle?

Anonymous Coward says:

A few things you got to keep in mind fellas:

– 90% of the Chinese share one of 20 surnames, they are not only Han, they are a specific group of Han that wiped out all the rest. If you see them doing this, you can bet that the Japanese, the Koreans, the Singaporeans and others will not follow in those steps because that score thing is something “only chinese roaches do”. Same applies for us;

– The Han thus already form an upper-caste in China. You won’t get into the higher echelons of power, of money, of privilege of high internet score if you are not Han;

– Some of you dream about direct democracy, see Switzerland and see Latvia. But keep in mind that they have an “independent” media, which as not so effective as the American or German ones, can screw up with the people’s minds. See the “refugee” rates and changes of law in Switzerland as an instance. See also about them going FIAT just a decade ago, again because of media push;

– All religions are similar, you get a genesis from the sumerians which is quite like that of the bible. Yet, few of them talk about the dystopian future as the christians do. You should all read the Revelations. That book lays down the path that global tyranny will follow;

Last thing: how can we keep a good civilized-quality-of-life while not participating in this bullshit?

Anonymous Coward says:

save a soul

Does not seem to be an actual thing.
either Just spam or spam plus attempted human organ trafficking.

(In most cases you can’t legally buy or sell a kidney or pay someone directly for the ‘service’ of donating to you. Just offering can be illegal. When it is done it is never for sums like three hundred thousand dollars, one might see three percent of that if lucky)

Tom Reuben says:

American in China

I’m an American living in China two years now. Yes, Marxism has stunted minds here, for sure. But, China is not nearly the police state that USA is. In terms of police presence, USA is an actual police state in comparison.

In China there are no patrol cops, no traffic cops, no swat-style uniformed cops on the streets. In two years I have seen only a handful of actual police officers in public. But in USA I see cops everywhere. China’s lack of cops does not translate into higher crime either, as I have seen less crime here than in USA.

Granted, the Chinese are living in an oppressed society, most noticeably in the lack of creative and original thinking among the Chinese, but when I fly home to USA and am greeted by the TSA at the airport, and then see so many aggressive-looking police on the streets, it makes me wonder if Americans realize they are living in what looks to be a genuine police state.

Also, I have observed that China and the American liberals are remarkably alike. Both champion such causes as:

— abortion on demand
— gun control
— nationalized industry
— collectivism
— restricted religion
— restricted capitalism

Liberals should seemingly be holding China up as their role model, and already USA has surpassed China in terms of public policing of citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: American in China

Chinese government has successfully turned every citizen into a policeman for the state.

Something that the US government has tried for a long time without success.

That’s why you see uniformed police officers everywhere in the US, it doesn’t mean they do not exist in China.

In China the police uses mostly plainclothes and you could be surrounded by them without knowing.

I thought that by living in China you should already know about that. That’s why the crime rates are so low, sometimes you are married to a government agent and you don’t know about it.

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