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.

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Filed Under: china, financial aid, privacy, surveillance


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  1. icon
    Nurlip (profile), 24 Jul 2017 @ 7:25pm

    So using a single data point is the equivalent of 'Surveillance' (as the buzzword is used here)? I honestly read the headline and thought i was still on the gawker portion of my feeds...
    Yes, this is 'ok'. For reference, You walk into any major department store in the whole USA and you are being legally surveiled by more than one 'data point' aka camera w/ image recognition software stalking you throughout your entire visit. Is that ok? Thats not even gubment surveylense but the law says it's ok.

    Personally i worked for a university that monitored students' federal work study stipends and awarded more money to those who used it all (when there was a surplus) and met the grading criteria to continue in the program. That's at least 3 'survelliance' data points monitored by a 'state' school. This was also done w/o a facebook post listing each student so it was 'china style' discreet i guess.

    SHUT IT DOWN!? No. Just make sure there is oversight so the program isn't being abused.

    Also, universities that are eligilbe to award work study grants are required to monitor the 'award status' (gpa and hours worked each week) of each recipient. It's a great program and China's sounds similar if not even more discreet.

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