In the latest move to implement a social credit system across mainland China, Chinese authorities recently launched a credit rating app targeting China’s 460 million adults aged 18 to 45. According to this scheme, those who earn the highest credit scores enjoy greater access to training and employment benefits, while those with low scores encounter restrictions even in day-to-day life.
Observers say that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to use technology to build a unique form of totalitarianism that has never existed in the past.
The social credit rating app, called “Unictown,” was formally released in February by a team at Tsinghua Unigroup under the dual leadership of Communist Youth League Central Committee and the National Development and Reform Commission, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Unlike the financial credit system in the West, Unictown gathers a large amount of non-financial information about its users, including so-called “anti-social” behavior and participation in “volunteer work.”
By collecting, sorting, and analyzing a vast array of data, from a person’s educational background to online shopping habits, the app aims to encourage “good” behavior and deprecate “bad” behavior, especially among college students and new graduates.
For this group of users, extra points can be earned for publishing papers, inventing products, and participating in social volunteer activities, while cheating on exams or committing plagiarism will affect their social credit scores.
When a student purchases an online course via Unictown, the app will determine how much of a discount can be applied based on his or her social credit score. More importantly, when looking for employment, those who have higher social credit will be prioritized.
According to SCMP, the developers of Unictown declined to disclose how the app evaluates various data to calculate a credit score, and denied that whether a person is a member of CCP is taken into account in the metric.
China’s state-run media praised the credit system as being able to guide young people to consciously practice the CCP’s “socialist core values.”
Chinese human rights lawyer and visiting scholar at New York University Teng Biao told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that the new social credit scheme is part of a series of measures taken by the CCP to strengthen its surveillance over the whole of society and re-activate totalitarian rule.
Teng believes the CCP is in the process of building a super-totalitarian system using big data, video surveillance, DNA collection, internet technology, facial recognition technology, and social credit, creating an unprecedented form of totalitarianism.
“In the past, there was the Nazi totalitarianism and Mao Zedong’s totalitarian system, but a totalitarian system powered by the internet and contemporary technology has not existed before,” Teng said. “The CCP is now taking the first step to build such a high-tech totalitarian system, by using credit ratings and monitoring and recording every detail in people’s daily life, which is very frightening.”
While some may welcome the imposition of a social ranking system as an avenue to earning certain benefits, Teng warned against the darker aspects of digital social control, as it would severely curtail individual freedoms in China.
According to Teng, the development of today’s social credit system is rooted in the CCP’s sense of crisis as a ruling party. The CCP has tightened its control in every aspect in Chinese society in recent years; such as by launching tougher crackdowns on human rights lawyers, religious groups, Uyghur and Tibetan activists, and imposing more stringent internet censorship.
Xia Yeliang, a former professor of economics at Peking University now living in the United States, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that the social credit rankings system for young people is a new means for the Chinese authorities to control them, especially college students.
He compared the social credit system to a huge net, trapping everyone inside. “The CCP wants to make sure that these young people don’t do or say anything that is considered out of the boundary,” Xia said.