explainer

"Where you go, what you buy, who you talk to": The terrifying policy taking over China.

Imagine if your Uber rating controlled your life.

It dictated whether you could get on a plane, what room you got at a hotel, if you could sign up to a dating app, your access to bank loans….

That’s basically what’s happening in China right now, except it’s called a “social credit system.”

You can listen to the Quicky’s episode on China’s social credit system here. Post continues after podcast.

The new technology brought in by the country’s Communist Party is literally tracking the population’s every move, and deducting or adding points depending on their behaviour.

The party claims it will “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the ‘discredited’ to take a single step.”

It’s like a personal score card for each of China’s 1.4 billion citizens, and for some it’s great – and they’ve reported feeling more ‘safe’ since the system’s introduction.

However for others, the consequences are dire.

So, what is the system checking?

There are dozens of different trials happening around the country. In some, individuals have a score out of 1000, for others it’s 800.

You lose or gain points depending on what you do, who you associate with, where you visit, and what you buy.

Digitally, the government is tracking their financial credit with the bank, what they’re doing on their smartphone, who they talk to on the phone and what websites they visit.

Residents have been hired in neighbourhoods to effectively spy on their community. They write down any bad deeds they witness, and pass the information over to government staff who subtract points depending on the ‘deed.’

There are 200 million CCTV cameras set up across the country monitoring the Chinese population’s every step.

They’re watching for if people J-walk, buy too much alcohol, put the wrong things in their shopping trolley. Basically anything not considered ‘good.’

There’s even a trial underway for pet owners, checking animals are being treated correctly.

What happens if you lose too many points?

If you lose too many points, there are certain ways residents can gain them back quickly – they can volunteer, donate to charity or give blood.

When your points are too low, it can can quite literally, as the Community Party warns, make it hard to take a “single step.”

Some of the punishments include not being able to travel and being stopped from buying rail or airline tickets.

Scores and behaviour can be printed onto public boards for the whole community to see.

You would be removed from certain dating apps or platforms.

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Your pet could be removed from you.

You children could be barred from getting into good schools or universities.

Why is China doing this?

China is trying to rebuild trust.

The 2008 baby formula contamination scare killed six babies and hospitalised 54,000.

In 2018 the country had a vaccine scare that was described as “the worst public health crisis in years.”

The scare came after a series of fake and substandard food and drugs issues in China, and people were starting to lose faith in the health system.

The Communist Party is justifying the lack of anonymity and privacy as a way of rebuilding trust in companies and fellow citizens so the public knows – if others do something against you, they will be punished.

There are also reports that the technology might be being misused in certain circumstances, and that it’s being geared to detect people of Uigur backgrounds – a Muslim minority living in China.

It is suggested that they are being rounded up and placed into what are being called re-education camps with authorities saying it’s ensuring that they have a handle on extremism and terrorism.

They also reportedly have a database that includes anyone who has committed a crime, has a mental health issue, a drug problem, or who has asked too many questions of the government.

What are the ramifications?

For those with good social scores, the ramifications are great.

Marketing professional and model citizen Dandan Fan, 36, told the ABC the system is “fine with her.”

Thanks to her good score, she gets VIP treatment at hotels and airports, cheap loans and is fast tracked into the best jobs.

“I think people in every country want a stable and safe society. If, as our government says, every corner of public space is installed with cameras, I’ll feel safe,” she said.

But there are 10 million people who have been punished so far in the trials.

Investigative journalist Liu Hu has uncovered corruption at the top levels of the Community Party and solved several murder cases.

He told the ABC the government considers him an enemy and as a result, he has a horrible credit rating.

It has destroyed his career and left him isolated and he now fears for his family’s future.

If he tries to book a train ticket, his attempts are rejected.

His social media accounts have been shut down, which is where most of his audience was.

Hu believes his country is headed towards a digital totalitarian state, and he doesn’t think China really understands what that means.

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