Those voices are speaking about American companies developing Chinese-style social credit systems for use in the United States. Because if there’s one thing Americans love, it’s more access to credit.
If you’re not familiar with the social credit system in China, it’s a personal reputation program set to be deployed everywhere by 2020. If you’re not familiar with China, it’s a small country somewhere in Southeast Asia.
Under the system, all citizens will be assigned a score based on their behavior in society. She might look like a ten, but she’s really a two. (Or he!)
The Chinese government claims its system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” This could have seriously devastating effects in a country like the United States, because Americans don’t exercise.
Now, broadly speaking, we might not even notice if something like this were to be rolled out. In China, a low score means the government will subject you to public shaming, bad transportation, and useless internet speeds. In the U.S., that’s just flying Spirit Airlines.
But we already have plenty of social scores. What’s your Uber rating? Mine is 4.72, because I like to roll down the window without the driver’s permission. And I only do that so I can listen to the wind instead of having a conversation with an Uber driver about what it’s like to be an Uber driver.
But If my score ever drops below 4, perhaps because the driver’s mango-pine air freshener made me throw up in the back seat, I could be banned from the platform forever.
The same goes for Airbnb. Last time I rented someone’s place, my brother forgot to move a chair back from one room to another. I got a sternly worded message from the delicate host that could, through the feedback system I’ll never see, build up my Airbnb reputation as the guy who leaves stools around the house.
And a score isn’t necessarily a star rating, like each of us is an Italian restaurant in the village. Life insurance companies are allowed to scan your social media posts to determine the price of your insurance premiums. You might want to set your status to “alive.”
Another Silicon Valley company is even developing technology to scan IDs at bars to determine who might be prone to violence or excessive drinking, and prevent them from entering. It’s called a bouncer.
In China, the places you go, the way you spend money, and the things you say online is being used to oppress the population in the interest of the social good.
But I don’t think that will happen in the United States, where your location tracking, public Venmo, and old tweets won’t be used for anything interesting, or anything good.