Over the last few years, the Chinese government has been working on a colossal experiment in social control. The first public mention of this project was in mid-2014 in a document called ‘Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System’. There the State Council, the chief administrative authority of the People’s Republic of China, proposed the creation of a vast system of surveillance in which every citizen would be given a numerical score that indicated their trustworthiness. This system would be based on wide-reaching tracking of online and offline actions, all purchases, media engagement and social relations. All the information scraped off by this surveillance process would be centralised in a database and groomed by algorithms looking to extract patterns. These patterns would then be interpreted in a strongly normative way. Taken together, the algorithms would settle on a single number: the ‘Citizen Score’. This score will have massive impacts on people’s lives, with punishments and rewards once the system becomes operational. The State Council wants to make the Social Credit System compulsory for all citizens by 2020.
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