Establish a rating system in which each person is scored and that the amount of points we have affects our life. Even in a society like ours, where we are often concerned about the opinions others have about us, this idea may seem exaggerated and more typical of science fiction than reality. In fact, it is a concept that we can see in series such as Black Mirror (in its chapter “Swooping Down”), in literature (1984 by Orwell) or in video games. However, it is something that has been proposed to be carried out in reality.

In fact, with a view to 2020 it is proposed that this should happen in China, with the Zhima Credit System and the good citizen card .

Big Brother arrives in China

The concept of Big Brother was born in the novel 1984 by Orwell, an author who presented a future in which citizens were monitored continuously, being watched and controlled in such a way that everything they do and say is observed and valued. This idea has expanded among the population until it has been used to refer to those situations in which there is extreme control and manipulation of the population’s behavior. And this is something that could happen in China when the system we are dealing with in this article is implemented.

For some years now, China has proposed and approved the implementation of a system that will allow, through the extensive network of cameras that cover the country, to assess the performance of citizens according to criteria and algorithms that are currently secret.

The process in question is not something that has already been definitively established, but is open to change depending on the appearance of different variables and the successes and errors that need to be modified. In this sense, the government has provided permission to eight private companies to generate a system based on algorithms dedicated to the control and scoring of the population’s shares, with the Zhima or Sesame Credit system of Alibaba being one of the most active and popular (together with the company China Rapid Finance) in the generation of an algorithm based on various criteria.

Such criteria might include financial history (do you pay bills? do you take out credit?), ability to meet contractual obligations (efficiency and effectiveness at work), personal characteristics, and behavior and preferences. This means that the economic capacity, labour productivity of each citizen, what they buy and what they don’t buy, their habits and tastes, would be continuously evaluated and would be rewarded and punished for it .

Participation in this programme is, for the time being, voluntary. However, it is envisaged that from 2020 it will be compulsory for every person and legal entity in China. Thus, the whole country will have a social value as a citizen, being punctuated and controlled its actions.

Of course, this initiative is subject to numerous criticisms and controversies, since implies an almost total control of the citizenship by the authorities and being subject to criteria unknown by the majority. After all: what does it mean to be a good citizen? The answer to this question is subject to a great deal of subjectivity.

Facial recognition surveillance

To work, this system requires an intricate system of cameras covering the cities, as well as software that allows facial recognition . And the truth is that both elements are already established in China: there is, for example, the possibility of buying or withdrawing money from banks based on the analysis of their features, without requiring cards, with systems such as Face++.

It is also used in a punitive way: in some cities we can see how there are large electronic posters where show the faces of citizens who have been recorded committing some imprudence with regard to car traffic, whether they are pedestrians or drivers, as a form of public derision (it is necessary to pay to remove their image).

These are systems that are useful in several ways, and their application has led to the arrest of many criminals and suspects. It makes it easier to locate them and to know what they have done and when. It also makes something like shopping simpler, not requiring items such as cards to pay and reducing the likelihood of theft (although there is also the risk of hacking the system).

Likewise, the idea of monitoring information on some aspects of citizens’ lives is not new or exclusive to China. For example, in the United States there are reports on credit and financial efficiency and reliability that may have an impact on obtaining credit or assessing conditions .

What is pioneering and controversial about this initiative is the fact that it is applied to the whole population in a generalised way, and the idea of valuing how good or bad a citizen one is, with this valuation having much more subjective overtones. Moreover, this control would be exercised continuously throughout the subject’s life, in all the areas in which it could be recorded.

Our score has consequences on the day-to-day

The scores and assessments that citizens may have will not be merely anecdotal, but will have consequences.

As it is proposed, people with low social value could see how their access to the Internet is lower and low speed, and access to different leisure systems, services and products (going to the cinema or to certain restaurants for example, or enrolling their children in private schools) or specific rights (taking out their passports, accessing certain jobs or accessing the right to use certain methods of transport), will also be limited if they engage in behaviour considered inappropriate. For example, someone with a very low valuation would not be able to access fields related to legality, civil law or journalism.

On the other hand, those with a higher score may have multiple benefits in addition to being socially better valued: may for example have priority in obtaining visas , and be exempted from having to leave a deposit in hotels or rent an apartment (although this only applies to some cities).

It is a system that has been described by the government as a method for those who are trustworthy and valued to act freely while those who do not deserve such trust and commit different crimes have difficulty acting as they please. This concept can be dangerous, at any point of the globe: dissidences or concrete ideologies could be easily repressed and punished , and even scientific advances contrary to the opinion or interests of classes closer to power could be restrained.

Altering behavior

In addition to the above, this scoring system can have another type of risk: profoundly altering our behavior, even where vigilance does not reach.

The main advantage is that it increases safety in terms of blood crimes, and also decreases the possibility of breaking the law, which could lead to reducing recklessness such as that which leads to a traffic accident.

The adverse consequences are clear. There is a loss of freedom and privacy , leaving the totality of our behaviour exposed and being constantly judged by other people whose ideas do not necessarily correspond to ours.

Also , non-criminal and non-harmful behaviours can be judged, such as individual social and personal habits and divergences from the norm could be harmed. Spontaneity would also be lost and every act would become much more controlled, due to the fear of possible reprisals. This subjects the citizen to high pressure in all areas of his or her life, generating stress and anxiety that may diminish his or her abilities and even damage his or her health.

Another element to take into account is the possible desperate search for social approval , and the evaluation and the score that we have can lead to an obsessive or histrionic point: although in principle the score itself is not shared with the rest of the citizens, the fact of being valued in a better or worse way will make some people look for approval above all, in a compulsive and desperate way.

Finally, we may encounter another risk: the sale of our data to third party companies for their benefit and try to attract us to their products. Although this is normally done by entering different websites and social networks, this requires an implicit acceptance that these websites have at least some of our information and is not something that is done by the mere fact of entering.