China has started rolling out the Chinese ‘social credit score’, which takes into account, among other things, your behaviors, and your purchases. But don’t think you’re immune if you don’t live in China; companies around the world, including the U.S., are already compiling a ‘social score’ on you. While a “social score” is different in some ways from a “social credit score”, it’s not really that far removed, and the potential is pretty concerning.
The way that it works is that you start out with a default social credit score, and then it can move up or down (mostly down it seems) by your observable behaviors. And by ‘observable’ we mean anything into which the Chinese government has a view.
And because the Chinese government has access to the data compiled by Alibaba, which owns one of the largest online payment systems in China, and also Alibaba’s credit arm, Sesame Credit, they have access to not only your credit ranking, but also your purchases.
As a Sesame spokesperson explained, in this article on Morning Edition, if you buy diapers you are seen as responsible so your social credit score goes up (or at least not down), if you buy video games, you’re irresponsible and your social credit score goes down.
Purchases aren’t the only behaviors that the government in China is observing, and that can negatively impact your social credit score, however. Bad driving, refusing military service, smoking in a non-smoking zone, and even walking your dog without a leash, can all impact your social credit score.
And having too-low a social credit score can bar you from air and train travel, from being able to check into certain hotels, from access to the best schools for your children, and from certain jobs. According to Business Insider, it can even cause you to lose your pet dog!
Now, here in the U.S., we don’t (yet) have a social credit score, but we do have social scores (and of course we have credit scores).
In the United States, social scores have been calculated by various companies such as Klout and Octoboard. (Note: Klout was acquired by Lithium this year and eventually shut down.) Other players in the social score industries in the U.S. have included Kred (apparently now also shut down), and PeerIndex – which was acquired by Brandwatch in 2014. It’s worth noting that in each acquisition case a user-facing social scoring service (i.e. that the individual users would use to see how much social media clout they had) was acquired by a business-facing (i.e. businesses would use the data to reach out to social media influencers) company.
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Generally speaking, these social score generation outfits look at all of your various social media accounts and activities, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc., and based on that information create a social score for you which equates to your reach – i.e. how many followers do you have, and how much influence do you have. Companies want to know that because the more social influence you have, the more they are willing to pay to get access to you and have you promote their message.
While on it’s own this seems very different from what China is doing, consider just how much of your activity on the Internet – even off social media – is discoverable.
Now, combine that with the fact that everybody in the U.S. has a credit score.
Would you want to be judged by every fingerprint you have left (or others have left for you) on the Internet, along with your credit score? Because that is entirely doable right now, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots.
Of course, one of the biggest differences between China’s social credit score, and social scores being compiled in other countries, is that China’s social credit score program has been instituted by the Chinese government.
But is that enough of a difference?