Social scoring systems coming soon – be afraid, be very afraid!

Written by on February 16, 2016 in Opinion with 5 Comments

Pulling stringsUnless you are a Chinese national or serious gamer you have probably never heard of Sesame Credit, but you should at least be aware of what may become the greatest mass surveillance tool ever devised.

Sesame Credit is promoted as a credit scoring system constructed by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of the Alibaba Group and is being used by Tencent Holdings, another massive Chinese company with interests in many services including social networks, web portals, e-commerce, and multiplayer online games.

Beneath the innocuous cover of ‘credit scoring’ lies, according to some, a massive tool for authoritarian oppression by ‘gamifying being a good corporate citizen’ that may easily be copied by Western countries when its true power becomes evident.

Here’s how it works. It not only monitors your online purchases and spending patterns, but Sesame Credit also tracks your social media activity. So, if you publish pictures of Tiananmen Square or comment on the recent Chinese stock market declines your score will be marked down. But if you promote the national party line or push positive information about the economy it will go up.

It doesn’t stop there. If you buy goods online such as work clothes or local agricultural products that help the economy and show you are a good citizen your score goes up. If you buy anime from Japan, for example, it goes down.

These scores are tiered so when you need arrange documents for travel or borrow money a higher tier will hold you in good stead with the relevant government departments and banks.

Although there are no penalties for those with low scores when the system becomes mandatory in 2020, yes mandatory, who knows what might happen. Perhaps their internet access will be restricted or they will be prevented from taking certain jobs. All conjecture now, but possible later? Yes.

Oh, it doesn’t stop there. Because you are part of a social network or two the system starts to monitor who you communicate with, and if their scores are higher or lower it could affect your own. The system even tells you who is affecting your score and even suggests those that will enhance it. Does social pressure work better than civil punishment? Is this social engineering? We will soon find out.

Governments may not need to step in at all if this system flies as people will inadvertently and unconsciously police other people and reeducation will be forced on those that don’t comply by those wanting to improve their score. Well, that’s the plan at least.

Positive reinforcement by garnering a higher score is deemed to be more effective than existing negative processes like fines, jail sentences, etc. After all, the same system has worked effectively in online gaming for years.

Even though Sesame Credit is not mandatory yet there is the ‘cool factor’ that is being fostered by early adopters who are spreading the word and at the same time improving their own ‘good citizen’ score.

What may seem a benign credit scoring system at first has, when it becomes mandatory in 2020, the potential of being the Chinese government’s most powerful tool in keeping its citizens unconsciously in line. And how long before other governments ‘cotton on’ and introduce similar systems themselves? Or maybe they have already?

If you can stomach more, take a look at this video created by gaming experts, Extra Credits. Warning: you may need stiff drink afterwards.

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About the Author

About the Author: Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, acts a market strategist and is now Editor of DisruptiveViews. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide. .

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  1. Andrew Doyle says:

    Oops, well that is a few minus points for you then Tony! On a more serious note the scenario you describe is entirely possible, but really only in a totalitarian environment as it would require the tacit acceptance if not active support of the majority of the population in a western style democracy for it to succeed. I for one would oppose it and I suspect there would be a fair number of like minded people who would use platforms like Change.org to combat it should it begin to gain a foothold here.

    • Martin Gibbs says:

      Monitoring of on-line activity is nothing new. The form it takes in the West is more corporate and done by stealth than a dictatorial state measure, Many large companies will look at an employee candidate’s social media activity as part of a screening process. The supermarkets send emails showing items related to previous purchases and Expedia detect the devices viewing their site and dynamically adjust their prices for each individual accordingly, (so don’t buy tickets from Expedia using a brand new and expensive tablet). So for me it will be profits driving a ‘social’ score rather than being an Orwellian style ‘good citizen’.

  2. Sol JEEWA says:

    Thanks for bringing to our attention Tony. And whilst it may seem far fetched for our generation I don’t think there would be as much opposition as we may think. Judging by how education and media is being dumbed down in the UK I wouldn’t be surprised if people actually thought this was a good idea. It’s always about how it’s sold to people.

    PS hope to catch up with you both at MWC this week.

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