By Julie Makinen
Los Angeles Times.
Internet users in America voiced outrage this fall over the imminent launch of a Yelp-style app intended to let anyone post public reviews of their friends, acquaintances and yes, enemies, with no opt-out option.
The outbursts prompted the creators of the app, Peeple, to reconsider. But in China, government authorities are hard at work devising their own e-database to rate each and every one of the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens by 2020 using metrics including whether they pay their bills on time, plagiarize schoolwork, break traffic laws or adhere to birth control regulations. And there’s no opt-out option.
Proponents of the so-called Social Credit System say it will help China overcome a multitude of societal ills for which it has gained international ignominy, from food and drug safety scandals to flagrant corruption, counterfeiting, tax evasion, academic cheating and even public defecation.
The goals for the project are nothing if not lofty: “carrying forward sincerity and traditional virtues,” “encouraging trust,” “raising the overall competitiveness of the country,” and last but not least, “stimulating … the progress of civilization,” according to a lengthy brief published by China’s State Council, or Cabinet.
But some fear that marrying FICO-style credit scores with school, employment, criminal and other records will create the ultimate Orwellian instrument of social control in a one-party state that in recent years has shown less and less tolerance for critical voices.