Privacy

by Glyn Moody


Filed Under:
big data, china, citizen score, jack ma, surveillance

Companies:
alibaba



Alibaba's Boss Says Chinese Government Should Use Big Data Techniques On Its 'Citizen Scores' Surveillance Store

from the and-here's-a-cloud-computing-platform-I-prepared-earlier dept

A year ago, Techdirt wrote about China's disturbing plan to create "citizen scores" that would rate everyone in the country on the basis of everything they do and say online. Although not much has been heard in the West about the scheme since then, that doesn't mean that the plan has been dropped. As the Washington Post reports:

A high-level policy document released in September listed the sanctions that could be imposed on any person or company deemed to have fallen short. The overriding principle: "If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere."

A whole range of privileges would be denied, while people and companies breaking social trust would also be subject to expanded daily supervision and random inspections.

The ambition is to collect every scrap of information available online about China's companies and citizens in a single place -- and then assign each of them a score based on their political, commercial, social and legal "credit."
The article notes that it is not clear how the Chinese authorities intend to carry out this massive task. Although that might raise the hope that it will prove too hard to implement, one person who doesn't seem to share that view is Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of the Chinese Internet giant Alibaba. In a televised speech broadcast last week to 1.5 million security officials across China, Ma called for the government to apply big data's analytical techniques in fighting crime. Bloomberg Technology quoted him as saying:
Bad guys in a movie are identifiable at first glance, but how can the ones in real life be found? In the age of big data, we need to remember that our legal and security system with millions of members will also face change.
He gave a concrete example of how big data techniques could be used in this context (original in Chinese). He said that there was nothing suspicious about somebody buying a pressure cooker or a clock, nor anything suspicious about someone buying ball bearings. But if somebody buys all of them together, you have a suspicious pattern. His suggestion that data mining techniques applied to everyday purchases might help the authorities to spot these patterns and to stop criminals before they act -- a familiar enough idea -- indicates that he is thinking of China's plans to track every transaction from every shop as part of its "citizen scores" project.

Once that data is gathered, it would indeed be possible to start applying big data techniques as a matter of course in order to spot correlations -- something already being used on Internet data by the NSA and GCHQ. But Ma's suggestion is to go even further, and to analyze every digital breadcrumb people drop for possible significance when combined with more data points, whether their own or of others.

It's a chilling vision of total surveillance subject to constant, open-ended analysis, but it is certainly not a theoretical one. Ma's Alibaba group of companies includes Alibaba Cloud, which proudly proclaims its capabilities as follows:

China's largest and most trusted cloud services provider and the world's fourth largest website hosting provider.

Alibaba Cloud offers users the same cloud infrastructure that provides uninterrupted service to Alipay, an online payment service that can process a record-breaking 140,000 payments per second, and products that have broken records in anti-DDoS protection and database sorting.
That's just the sort of scale nationwide big data operations would require. As Bloomberg Technology points out, Ma's idea of applying some of that database sorting to catch the bad people is as much about money as morality:
Ma's speech also highlights the delicate relationship between Chinese web companies and the government. The ruling party has designated internet industry leaders as key targets for outreach, with President Xi Jinping saying in May last year that technology leaders should "demonstrate positive energy in purifying cyberspace."

Ma has said his policy for dealing with the government is to fall in love but not marry. His company has courted state clients, including the provincial governments of Zhejiang and Guizhou, for its cloud services.
Judging by his remarks to security officials, Ma seems happy to help with the cyber-purification -- especially if it might bring him some very lucrative government business for Alibaba Cloud along the way.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 3:31am

    If those in power keep on down this path, the [Butlerian jihad](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butlerian_Jihad) will occur somewhat earlier than predicted...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 4:08am

    Nsa has it already. How efficient is it? Just ask that that jerk who put pressure cooker bombs in nyc recently.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 4:12am

      Re:

      yes but in the aftermath report when they looked through the haystack they were able to locate the multiple needles they overlooked previously & decide they needed more haystacks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 4:50am

    Big Data? ...... More like Big Bullshit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 5:20am

    SciFi come true...

    It's sounds very much like the recent episode of Black Mirror "Nosedive" Fucking scary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, 27 Oct 2016 @ 6:09am

    When it comes to 'Harmony'...

    ... there is no expense for the Powers to Be in Beijing. Yet for all of the purported hype to this idea in various parts of the world, it all hinges on the idea that all transactions, regardless if it is paid in cash and/or through a second hand market, are recorded.

    As with the black powder attack at Beijing Airport in 2013 shows...

    http://blog.chinadaily.com.cn/blog-135031-11419.html

    ... 'Big Data' is going to be useless in detecting such an event.

    No... have a feeling these announcements are more on the line of attempts to keep the general populace 'humbled and bamboozled' in the face of such 'incredible technology.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 6:46am

    Zero Tolerance!

    Watch "Black Mirror" S3 E1 "Nosedive" That show details exactly what will happen in this society.

    You need to be 100% obedient little citizens or else.

    This is how you guarantee a rebellion. It will not be a question of if, but a question of when.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 7:04am

    fall in love but not marry

    I've heard prostitution described in such terms.
    "love you long time!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 8:04am

    If the data doesn't correlate,then you just make stuff up. As profit comes before such things as following the laws, morals and other such basic things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 8:14am

      Re:

      This is what scares the shit out of me. Who will be in control of the quality or accuracy of all that data? I mean, how can anyone know that shit is not being made up as they go along. What is to stop the curators from using that power to fuck over people they hate?

      I have already lost the ability to believe anything the government or law enforcement says about a criminal since they have proven more than willing to lie, manufacture evidence, and randomly threaten citizens and suspects at the drop of a hat!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 2:20pm

        Re: Re:

        > What is to stop the curators from using that power to fuck over people they hate?

        Umm, isn't that the point?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 9:26am

    *But if somebody buys all of them together, you have a suspicious pattern.*

    Unless, of course, it's may individuals and they buy it separately. Or even better, ask separately to an unsuspecting person to do the buying. Or, perfect, buy in cash in different places.

    No, really, these guys are something...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 1:00pm

      Re:

      Obviously the answer is to look deeper.

      What websites do people visit? What YouTube and Netflix videos do they watch? What Spotify or iTunes music do they listen to? What does their PayPal, Visa, eBay and Steam data say? Google searches? Facebook posts? Twitter likes? Geo-spacial phone data? Call logs? email logs? The 1000+ other US companies secretly forced to feed private data to the state via the patriot act. Add in government education, corrections, health, courts and police records.

      Spend a few bullion consolidating, cleaning, testing and modeling these data. Spend a few bullion more testing various predictive models*. Spend a few bullion more to keep your secret government unit "sustainable". A few bullion more because the bosses are idiots that only hear from vendors. A few bullion more because the vendors backed us in the primaries and we want to keep them onside.

      It's not bullshit. They are constructing an impenetrable cage around us right now.

      * See machine learning: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_learning

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 27 Oct 2016 @ 10:24am

    "there was nothing suspicious about somebody buying a pressure cooker or a clock, nor anything suspicious about someone buying ball bearings. But if somebody buys all of them together"

    I was just purchasing parts for my high-speed rotating pressure cooker. It evenly cooks chicken better than anything on the market, but you really need to control the cook times precisely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 2:24pm

      Re:

      > I was just purchasing parts for my high-speed rotating pressure cooker. It evenly cooks chicken better than anything on the market, but you really need to control the cook times precisely.

      You were building something on your own? Don't you know that's bad? I bet you didn't even hire a patent attorney to make sure you weren't violating any patents first, did you?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 2:55pm

    Buy a T-shirt from Techdirt -> Why is the postman waiting for me to come to the door? Why are the bushes wiggling on either side of the door? Did I have bushes there?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Devin, 1 Nov 2016 @ 6:31am

    It would be pretty crazy if all your actions online could be monitored. I'm a big fan of the ecommerce movement as I do a lot of Internet related dev at my website design co, http://www.websitedesigndurban.com/ , but I don't believe I'd be as big of a fan if we had to sort of keep back doors open for regulation entities to sniff through consumer data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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