Liu Hu didn’t realize that he was banned from flying until he tried to book a plane ticket and was denied. He was told that his name had been added to a blacklist of untrustworthy people. This list is part of China’s plan to give each of its 1.4 billion citizens a score based on how well they behave.
Hu is a journalist who was ordered to apologize for a series of tweets he posted online, but he was told his apology didn’t cut it. Now, his name has been added to a growing blacklist.
“I can’t buy property. My child can’t go to a private school,” said Hu. “You feel you’re being controlled by the list all the time.”
The new social credit system uses sophisticated surveillance cameras, government records and snitch-lines to monitor citizens’ behaviors. Based on their behaviors, citizens receive a score. If the score is high enough the citizen can go on a red list for people deemed trustworthy. If the score is low enough, a person can be blacklisted.
Blacklisted citizens are prevented from buying plane and train tickets, getting loans or jobs, staying in hotels, organizing social gatherings and accessing high-speed Internet. In the future, low scores may even block people from eating at restaurants. In some provinces, phone calls to a blacklisted person prompt a recorded message telling the caller that the person has unpaid debts.
On the other hand, people with high social credit scores are rewarded. Rewards include the ability to cut in line at the hospital and for men with high scores, access to women-only dating websites. Good social credit can also allow a person to rent an apartment, car, or bicycle without paying a deposit.
While some people criticize the new system, others believe it’s necessary. Because most Chinese people do not have a credit card, a mortgage or other loans, it’s difficult to give them a “credit score” like people in other countries are given. Credit expert Hu Nailhong believes that looking at a person’s overall behavior is one way to gauge their creditworthiness.
Things like community service and buying Chinese-made products can raise a person’s social credit score. While fraud, tax evasion and unpaid debts can lower a score. Even relatively minor offenses like smoking in non-smoking areas, jaywalking and cheating in online video games can lower one’s score.
By 2020, every citizen will have a social credit score. Some say, it’s already improving people’s behavior. Chen, a 32-year-old entrepreneur says, “I feel like in the past six months, people’s behavior has gotten better and better. But for people who are vocal about opinions that don’t toe the line, this new social engineering credit score will have grave consequences.”