It could happen here: How China's social credit system demonstrates the future of social control in smart cities

I know, everybody is messing around with their credit scores these days so that the whole system is meaningless. Soon, no companies will rely on it.

However, I can see it becoming a thing where everyone decides to find the lowest score person and start Friending them or whatever because it is amusing. This assumes the lowest score person has any access to any sort of data plan.

The Brotherhood of the Grass Mud Horse!

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And just a couple thousand years before Brave New World, Zoroastrians were brewing a hallucinogenic drink called soma.

Bad news. It’s not just companies, the US Government relies on it in some contexts, and has for years. One example: if you want to get a home loan, many banks will only consider you if you qualify for a FHA-insured loan. This was definitely the case when my wife and I were looking to buy a home in 2011, when the banks were still somewhat risk-averse following the big bust of the previous years. I figured that wouldn’t be a problem since we both had good jobs, no debts, plenty saved up for a down payment, etc. But it turns out that the FHA requires a certain FICO score to be eligible, and neither my wife or I had enough of a credit history to generate a score at all. We never used credit cards much because we preferred to use debit cards, and were always fortunate enough to have enough in savings to cover our living expenses. (Apparently that made us risky people to lend money to.)

I don’t consider myself to be some off-the-grid libertarian survivalist, but it definitely irks me that when deciding on who qualifies for certain benefits our government relies on an opaque score generated by for-profit companies with secret proprietary methods. It’s bad enough when private enterprises do it, but you can’t “opt out” of our government. In principle, we’re already in much the same situation as the Chinese social credit system or that Black Mirror episode. It’s more a matter of degree than in kind.


It’s naive to imagine that giving all of your citizens a public score that quantifies their value to society isn’t going to have unintended consequences. What do you think Martin Shkreli’s citizenship score would have been, prior to his conviction? And what does that prove to you if you’re a mediocre citizen who doesn’t have the time to post pro-government propaganda, or the resources to buy plenty of local vegetables, or hire a citizenship score manager to game the system on your behalf?

What happens when all the bad citizens realize that they’re not alone? Or when entire subcultures start to resent the government because they’re being punished for doing what they love? How hard does it become to monitor your subversives when they stop posting online and start meeting face-to-face?

Do people with very low scores become an identity group who take pride in dropping out, and “never trust anyone with a citizenship score over 300?” Can they deliberately monkey with your citizenship score? How easy is it to get your score corrected when someone hijacks your social media account?

Any system like this, implemented in a far-reaching way, is going to have far-reaching effects that will be very different from what its designers could have anticipated.


It’s almost like they read Daniel Suarez’s “Daemon” and “freedom ™” and decided to make it happen.
Personally I like the social credit system in the novels but I’d like something a little less coercive and mass murdery.

I always like to monitor the competition.


This already exists. See: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Credit reporting is entirely opaque and rules your life. This is the main determinant of who gets to own a home (the major vehicle of middle-class American wealth accumulation) and what fraction of their earnings they are able to save.

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Yep - that’s what the Chinese are doing. I was smug (and stupid) enough to think “won’t bother me if they do it here, I am unknown to FaceCrime and TwitSnitch and other forms of popular social media” and then sanity kicked in and I realised (a) not being on those platforms will create more suspicion and negativity than anything one could do while on them and (b) everything I post here will be held against me.

This IS the future unless some seriously radical revolutions start happening. The Chinese approach is a neo-liberal’s wet dream. I read Paul Mason at the weekend in an article in The Observer (UK Sunday paper) where there was a sentence “Neo-liberalism has failed” and thought - “how wrong can someone be?” Neo-liberalism is currently succeeding in its objectives more than they ever thought they’d get away with and now they know it’s possible they are going to try and go MUCH further.


The major social media sites are already saturated with celebrity publicists, corporate PR, fake news and bots pretending to think things and follow each other. If you layer citizenship score-based sock puppetry on top of that, one has to wonder how long before everyone (including advertisers) start to smell the bullshit.

I’m not being blase, I’m reflecting upon my own experience in MMORPGs: Everyone trying to police how everyone else plays, people exploiting the mechanics, arguing over how the rules are balanced, arguing over what the actual goals of the game should be, complaining about the financial advantages enjoyed by wealthier players, complaining about the shortcuts players are using to level up, factions spending 100% of their time trying to make the game unplayable for other factions, and so on.

All the same dynamics could play out—with much higher stakes—in a gamified society. So far everyone is assuming that this is inevitably going to work as intended, but what if it ends up ripping China apart?

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