According to WIRED, China is the first to employ a new form of credit that uses numbers associated with your reputation to provide one three-digit number that gives a value to your entire existence — who you know, how you act, and what you do. The number system sounds straight out of the “Twilight Zone.”
As Chinese business reporter You Xi explains it, “If you have payment data, you can assess the credit of a person. [It is] credit for everything in your life.”
It works like this: The better your reputation—achieved by things like having a PhD, who you associate with, and what you buy—the higher your social credit score. Those with high scores are given preferential treatment in society. https://t.co/fFWmijk4c9 pic.twitter.com/QHuAbAJsca
— WIRED (@WIRED) December 14, 2017
Essentially, a three-digit number is held in Alipay — China’s leading payment and social media app — and every time a user purchases a meal, rents a car, sends a social media message, goes grocery shopping or swipes for a bicycle their number can rise and fall. Alipay has taken over the financial and cultural sectors of the country so completely that people no longer need their wallets, which would be great if not for the fact that every move can (and is) tracked by the government.
For the 200 million Alipay users who have signed up for this “social” Zhima Credit, everything is accessible — at the cost of privacy. The company, however, alleges that it’s all about trust.
“Zhima Credit is dedicated to creating trust in a commercial setting and independent of any government-initiated social credit system,” the company said in a statement. “Zhima Credit does not share user scores or underlying data with any third party including the government without the user’s prior consent.”
The higher a person’s score, the easier it is to access services, skip lists, avoid paying deposits and avoid being categorized “as common folk.” Things like being friends with low-scoring people, spreading rumors online and playing too many video games can drop your score, while donating to charity or buying diapers can raise it. Zhima Credit’s general manager Hu Tao told reporters that its parent company — Ant Financial — wants access to lists of students who cheat during the national college entrance exams so their scores can be affected, according to WIRED.
“There should be consequences for dishonest behavior,” Tao declared.
According to Lucy Peng, Ant Financial’s chief executive, Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”
In a bizarre coincidence, the premiere episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror’s” third season featured a story similar to this real-life occurrence. In a world where people can rate one another based on their actions and habits, a character played by Bryce Dallas Howard goes off the rails when her rating rapidly plummets beginning with one poor interaction.
While the episode was in an alternate universe, it seems we’re not too far off from getting there ourselves — and that’s scary.