How China leads the social control technology field

With the raise of influencer soft persuasion attempt to push mobile tracking during the COVID-19 crisis, remember that people in power will never lose an opportunity to introduce more surveillance. Case in point, we inherited Patriot Act during the 911 crisis. 


For all the particularities of life in China, its big cities offer a familiar cosmopolitanism. Teenagers giggle over K-Pop videos in a Chengdu Starbucks. Strollers and dog walkers compete with an almighty clutter of dockless share bikes on the sidewalks of downtown Shenzhen. In Beijing’s trendy Sanlitun district, weekend shoppers size up Uniqlo parkas like bargain hunters anywhere. Here are all the signs and markers of placeless, globalized consumerism, and the metropolitan lifestyles that go along with it.

Home to half a billion human beings, beset by pressures both shared with other urban places and uniquely Chinese, it’s remarkable that churning conurbations like Shanghai, Chengdu, or Beijing are not constantly breaking out into open, ungovernable chaos. Just like cities anywhere, though, they do not—a stability that appears to arise almost entirely from self-organization.

Perhaps spurred on by their distaste for everything implied by such liberality, the Chinese government has become convinced that a far greater degree of social control is both necessary and possible. It now has access to a set of tools for managing the complexity of contemporary life that it believes will deliver better, surer, and more reliable results than anything produced by the model of order from below.

Known by the anodyne name “social credit,” this system is designed to reach into every corner of existence both online and off. It monitors each individual’s consumer behavior, conduct on social networks, and real-world infractions like speeding tickets or quarrels with neighbors. Then it integrates them into a single, algorithmically determined “sincerity” score. Every Chinese citizen receives a literal, numeric index of their trustworthiness and virtue, and this index unlocks, well, everything. In principle, anyway, this one number will determine the opportunities citizens are offered, the freedoms they enjoy, and the privileges they are granted.

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