Surveillance Used To Give Poor Students Extra Financial Assistance Discreetly. Is That OK?

from the invisible-subsidies dept

A story about surveillance in China is hardly notable -- Techdirt has run dozens of them. But there are some unusual aspects to this report on the Sixth Tone site that make it a little out of the ordinary:

The University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), in the eastern province of Anhui, collects data from the charge cards of students who frequently eat in the school cafeteria -- usually the cheapest option, thanks to government subsidies -- but spend very little on each meal. The school's student affairs department uses the information for "invisible subsidies," or allowances delivered without drawing attention -- what it calls "a more dignified way for poor students to receive stipends."

According to the post, the program has been running for many years, but only came to light when a former student posting under the name of "Shannon" wrote an account of being selected in 2005 for additional support, published on the site Zhihu, the Chinese equivalent of Quora. His post has received over 45,000 likes so far, and the number continues to rise. As the Sixth Tone story notes, comments on Shannon's post have been overwhelmingly positive:

One comment that received over 3,000 likes read: "The University of Science and Technology of China has really got the human touch -- they are pretty awesome." Another netizen, meanwhile, described the innovative scheme as "the right way to use big data."

This raises a number of questions. For example, does the widespread use of surveillance in China make people more willing to accept this kind of benevolent spying, as here? Or is it simply that its use is felt to be justified because it led to additional funding that was given in a discreet fashion? More generally, how would Chinese citizens feel about this approach being rolled out to other areas of life? Since that's pretty much what China's rumored "citizen score" system aims to do, we might find out, if it's ever implemented.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: china, financial aid, privacy, surveillance


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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 25 Jul 2017 @ 6:31am

    I wonder how the cards mentioned work. Are they private stuff like a credit card? (I know there isn't much privacy, the company knows everything you buy with the card but at the very least it isn't the government; the rest of the implications are a discussion for another time)

    If the card is issued by the govt or the university then it might be less of a problem but if it is a private thing then I have tons of problems with it even if the intentions are good (remember the road to hell?). A better approach would be to give discounts for students if they show their student ids and use that to provide such incentives when needed. Though this would have problems as well.

    So summarizing, nope, not ok as it is.

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