In China, huge billion-dollar systems are being created and implemented to track citizens as massive scales. Infrastructure has already been built to track cell phone use, location, and activity in the form of Aegis—-an application that can provide a full view to the virtual world based on real world data collected from phone networks and internet connected devices.
Aegis is a Chinese made surveillance application, but companies like Google and IBM have roots and investments in it. The question then becomes, how close is the United States to becoming like China in terms of surveillance and monitoring citizens? Well, critics surmise that the United States might be edging closer and developing a foundation to what is called a “social credit” system already being implemented in China.
In China, an array of companies already assigns scores to citizens based on personal profiles or even attributes, and government-run social score systems can be used to forbid people from using public transit, leaving the country, or even being hired for jobs. Now while western governments like the US don’t yet use these social scoring systems to the same scale, several companies and entities have begun to use these social scoring systems that can influence how one pays for insurance or even uses online services.
In New York, life insurance companies can now legally base their rates on social media posts. So, for example, if someone is a rock climber or partakes in dangerous legal activities—and posts content showing that on social media, they could be investigated and assigned a higher insurance cost. How would one get around this?
Well, we’ve already seen a rise in awareness for how social media can truly impact one’s life negatively, in forms of privacy violations and data leaks—so users may refrain from posting anything “real” about their lives on social media that could impact their social credit. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing per se, in that sometimes people share “too much” about their lives and this results in privacy dangers–but the concept could also be defined as a strange form of social censorship and fear mongering. If someone is afraid to post content for fear or reproach or fines, then the systems seem very similar to China’s internet dictatorship.
While this example is more ridiculous and more pertinent since insurance is a basic need, there are even more socially accepted examples of social credit that are creeping in the system—like with Uber or AirBNB. Both users of the apps are assigned scores based on their credibility with the service, and if a user gets too low of a score, they could be banned from using either service.
Now it makes sense that these companies can decide who gets to use their product, but imagine a day where taxis don’t exist, and the only way to travel somewhere would be with Uber. If someone has a bad score, they are out of luck. Other systems like PatronScan, let bars and other companies scan IDs and restrict access to premises based on prior behavior. The system is designed to make places safer, but the same systems can also be used to deny access to premises based on other reasons—like any type of racial or social prejudice. There is a very real danger that these fledging systems could lead to a future with huge value placed on social credit. And this social credit can easily be misused and misappropriated with data leaks.