China’s social credit system is one of a kind, and while it makes everyone outside of China scream in panic as the government starts controlling the behavior of their citizens, there are some opportunities in this technology often overlooked.
While the Chinese Communist Party openly shares how it uses phone, internet, and CCTV data to identify and track citizens’ behavior, in the West, we are living in a world of cognitive dissonance. Everyone is concerned about their data while the same as in China is happening, only in secrecy; the NSA monitoring worldwide internet data with the help of multinational corporations and your local government.
In China we know what the government is doing with the data, in the West our data is waiting on some server to be used in ways we do not know yet.
Both ways are flawed, but in the end, our data from years of internet and phone usage is stored somewhere. So the question becomes what do we want to do with it? The EU ruled a few years back that our data is an extension of our self. This is a step in the right direction but I want to see it go further. Our data will accumulate no matter what we do, so why don’t we have full access and transparency over it?
Just as many phones have implemented screen time and notification statistics over the past years, why can’t we have the same for everything else? Our data visualized for us. How long we spend on websites, how our most visited sites changed, our GPS and phone trail when traveling, the algorithms in Social Media that determine which content we like the most; everything government and companies already know about us. But instead of them evaluating us in secrecy, all this data should be available to us, as it represents us; being a part of us.
A social credit system sounds like an opportunity, once we regained our digital trail. Not in its current punishment-based form, but in an altered support-based version. Continuous positive behavior should be encouraged and rewarded, while bad performers should not get sole punished as it is in China right now, but supported in their life. Most of the people with serious issues are not able to get out of it on their own and no amount of punishment will change it, but at least we can identify them and offer help. But the infrastructure for supporting citizens instead of punishing them requires a mindset which the CCP, as many western governments and societies overall do not have yet.
And we obviously need to have a say in what positive and negative behavior is. Jaywalking during the day while dodging several cars is dangerous and most people would agree that it should be discouraged, but jaywalking at 3 AM with no cars on the streets is something entirely different. Criticizing the government or pointing out corruption should be encouraged as the system should reflect the morals, laws, and ideals of a consciously growing society.
A social credit system is a digital extension of our culture and law. But digitally, feedback becomes instant. You will know if you did something problematic right away, not weeks or years later. But it should not be used as an excuse for governments to collect more data about citizens or censor and control them, but serve them instead. As your data is a part of you, only you should have access to it, unless you decide otherwise. And you should be allowed to make mistakes, as it is the best way to learn to grow.
Balancing a system in which taking risks and making mistakes is encouraged while upholding the law is enormously complex, but only reflects the society we already live in.
If used transparently for the wellbeing of everyone, it can have enormous potential.