October 2019

Corporate Chinese-Style
Social Credit System Grows in the U.S.

A recent article cautions that a Chinese-style social credit system is increasingly taking hold in the United States, run not by the government, but by corporations. The Chinese system provides a social behavior rating system, or score, with citizens being rewarded or punished. According to the Chinese government, the system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” Membership or support for certain political groups, or failure to pay debts, “failure to sweep the sidewalk in front of your store or house, smoking or playing loud music on trains, jaywalking,” and other such offenses can lead to punishments. Punishments may include a ban on leaving the country, being barred from using public transportation, slower internet connections, and shaming on a public blacklist. The government also maintains a public red-list for those who have not transgressed.

The article notes that a “parallel system is developing in the United States, in part as the result of Silicon Valley and technology-industry user policies, and in part by surveillance of social media activity by private companies.”

Life insurance companies view social media postings for premium setting. PatronScan, a subsidiary of a Canadian software company, markets products to bars and restaurants to aid the establishments in spotting fake IDs and troublemakers. Data is collected and that collected from “non-offending customers” is deleted within 90 days; however, offending customers may be on a list for five years. The lists are shared with other bars and restaurants, and the PatronScan products are in use in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Transportation and accommodation service providers, like the industry leaders Uber and Airbnb, keep data and can ban customers, often without explanation, and without recourse or appeal.

The article author asked, “What’s wrong with using new technology to encourage everyone to behave?” since no one “likes antisocial, violent, rude, unhealthy, reckless, selfish, or deadbeat behavior.” He answered with the following: “If current trends hold, it’s possible that in the future a majority of misdemeanors and even some felonies will be punished not by Washington, D.C., but by Silicon Valley … law enforcement may be determined less by the Constitution and legal code, and more by end-user license agreements.”

Source:  Mike Elgan, “Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system,” fastcompany.com, August 26, 2019:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor