Is Social Credit the Way of the Future?

China’s social credit policy sounds like something out of the dystopian George Orwell novel, 1984.  Eight companies compile a multitude of data and determine a person’s social credit score (anywhere from 305 – 950).  Acts of kindness can increase your score (donating to charity or giving blood) while things like fighting can hurt your social credit.  Although the aim is to encourage good behavior of all citizens, one or two mishaps can affect your ability to get a loan or to travel. 

According to the aforementioned Times article, “In certain areas of China, call a blacklisted person on the phone and you will hear a siren and recorded message saying: “Warning, this person is on the blacklist. Be careful and urge them to repay their debts.” When a blacklisted person crosses certain intersections in Beijing, facial-recognition technology projects their face and ID number on massive electronic billboards.” 

The system has garnered criticism from many western countries, yet, these programs are not exclusive to China.  Some international companies are starting to rank their users based on behavior or reported behavior. This is mainly for consumer safety, but could one day grow into a wider net of social regulation.

Here are some companies who rate their users: 

Airbnb

Airbnb can disable your account for life and reserves the right to not tell you why. Airbnb statement asserts: “This decision is irreversible and will affect any duplicated or future accounts. Please understand that we are not obligated to provide an explanation for the action taken against your account.” The suspension may be based on a host’s private message to Airbnb about what they thought you did during your stay. Airbnb’s competitors have a similar strategy of banning customers without explanation.

Uber

Uber can now effectively ban anyone, and has already ranked its users on a scale of 1-5 in their system.  Once you leave the car, you are asked to rate the driver after each trip with the ride share service. What many passengers do not know is that the driver can also rate you. In compliance with the new policy in May 2019, Uber can ban you if your average rating is “significantly below average.”

PatronScan

PatronScan is a company that helps detect false IDs and trouble makers. If customers come to a bar that uses PatronScan, their ID will be run through the system. The company keeps a “public” list of questionable patronsin order to protect venues from “fighting, sexual assault, medicine, theft, and other misconduct.” If an individual is flagged by one bar, all PatonScan bars in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada may theoretically forbid him or her for up to a year. 

The system also allows bar managers to retain a “private” list that can keep out bad customers for up to five years. The bars’ owners and managers can ignore such data if they prefer. Customers who do not cause further trouble will have their data deleted within 90 days of an initial incident. If a customer wants to appeal their ban, there is a process. However, PatronScan decides if they want to permit or reject those appeals.

Future of Social Credit

An increasing number of social standards relating to travel, childcare, and overall connectivity are governed by technology companies or influenced using innovative technological systems.  Although these three companies use a consumer ranking system that could be compared to the beginnings of an overarching social credit system, the fact is that the utilization of the ranking systems are for far different purposes.  It does make you wonder though, what would your credit score be?

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