Keeping Score

Report: America Has a Social Credit System Much Like China’s

But it was built by Silicon Valley and not by the government.

8. 27. 19 by Kristin Houser
Victor Tangermann
Image by Victor Tangermann

In China, a three-digit number between 350 and 950 can determine whether a person’s loan application is approved, whether they can travel outside the nation’s borders, and even whether they’re able to land a date for Friday night.

That number is their social credit score, and they earn it through a system China began implementing in 2014.

Under the social credit system, if a Chinese citizen does something authorities deem “good” — paying bills on time, for example, or donating blood regularly — their score might increase. Conversely, if they do something “bad,” such as criticize the government or walk their dog without a leash, their score might drop.

Many Americans might find the power of China’s social credit system astonishing. But a newly published Fast Company story argues that people in the U.S. are already beholden to a similar system — it’s just established and enforced by private companies instead of the government.

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The magazine provides several examples to bolster the claim.

Life insurance companies can now base a person’s premiums on the content of their social media feeds, for example. Meanwhile, a company called PatronScan maintains a list of “objectionable customers” that bars and restaurants can use to exclude certain visitors.

And that’s nothing compared to larger platforms. Airbnb now has more than 6 million listings, so a ban from that app can dramatically impact a person’s ability to find accommodations. And Airbnb can ban anyone it wants to — it doesn’t even need to give them a reason.

Uber can also ban users, stifling their ability to travel, while a ban by WhatsApp or a similar service can negatively impact someone’s ability to communicate with the rest of the world.

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According to Fast Company, the “most disturbing” aspect of the U.S.’s social credit system is that these punishments are all levied outside the official justice system.

“[I]t’s an alternative legal system where the accused have fewer rights,” the outlet wrote, later adding that if “current trends hold, it’s possible that in the future a majority of misdemeanors and even some felonies will be punished not by Washington, D.C., but by Silicon Valley.”

READ MORE: Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system [Fast Company]

More on social credit: China’s Social Credit System Barred Millions from Traveling in 2018

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