China joins the big data game

Big data, a broad term describing the collection and use of data so large and so complicated that traditional models do not suffice. With the digitalization of modern society big data has become a buzzword that is mentioned whenever and wherever. The possibilities seem endless, companies can find patterns and links in places where no one would have expected them. Amazon, for example, knows you so well that it can ship your next package before you even order it. This massive data collection hasn’t come without its negativity. How much information should be available for a company to use? Privacy concerns lead to regular court cases, where often the companies are forced to stop or change the way they collect data. Clearly there is a limit to data collection, or is there?

Last year China announced its Social Credit System, a nationwide system giving an individual score to each of its 1,3 billion citizen. The system incorporates multiple criteria from general information as job and criminal behavior, but it also incorporates social values. Creemers, a china specialist, says: ‘This is a deliberate effort by the Chinese government to promote among its citizens “socialist core values” such as patriotism, respecting the elderly, working hard and avoiding extravagant consumption. A bad ‘credit score’ can result in being not eligible for certain jobs, housing or credit to start a company.’

The Chinese Academy says the Chinese society has changed over the past decades. China went from a from a society of acquaintances into a society of strangers. Huge cities have increased the anonymity of the Chinese citizen which led to trust being much harder to establish, thus hurting social and economic progress. ‘When people’s behavior isn’t bound by their morality, a system must be used to restrict their actions.’ The Social Credit System uses encouragement to keep trust and constraints against breaking trust as incentive mechanisms, and its objective is raising the honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society. China’s aim is clear, it wants to improve all citizens. Professor W. Shuqin, who works on the Social Credit System, further explains these intentions of china. Around half of all Chinese contracts are not fulfilled, this hurts the economy and is of low moral standard. Business in china is a dangerous and with this fast paced society it is important that people can verify each other’s creditworthiness. The social score can be used as a simple, accurate and fast check to see who you are doing business with.

In its first introduction the Social Credit System might not be more than a fast and efficient way to check if you are dealing with an honest business man or not, but nothing stops China from adding more and more behavioral measurements to the credit system to steer its citizens. Future versions possibly include ranking of hobbies, searches, books you read or restaurants you visited. The Social Credit system could then be used instead of a resume, and certain jobs might only be attainable for the ones with extreme high credit scores. China can even link your score to your friends, thus punishing you when your friends ‘misbehave’. China’s implementation of big data might be impressive on a technological level, but feels scary on a moral level.


Cannon, M,. Supreme Court denies appeal in Google Street View case, TechTimes, June 30

Bensinger, G,. Amazon Wants to Ship Your Package Before You Buy It, wsj, 17 January 2014

Brandsma, H,. China rates its own citizens – including online behavior, De Volkskrant, 25 April 2015

Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020), China Copyright and Media, 25 April 2015

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