In China, scoring citizens’ behavior is official government policy. U.S. companies are increasingly doing something similar, outside the law and the Constitution.
We all gasped in shock and horror when we learned last year about China’s dystopian and chilling social credit system that looked and sounded a whole lot like the George Orwell novel ‘1984‘. But guess what? A very similar system is rising up here in America, not run by our government like the Chinese system is, but created by each and every one of us who download apps and use the “like” and commenting features. All this activity has created a system that is beginning to rate people and allow them access to the system, or to lock them out of it.
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” Revelation 13:16-18 (KJV)
Social media use has created a paradigm shift in our culture on a par with the invention of the automobile and the electric light bulb, that’s how much change has been wrought seemingly overnight. In the movie ‘The Matrix‘, we learn to our astonishment that Neo and all the rest of mankind are actually human batteries living in a pod, generating life for ‘the system’. Isn’t that what we are all doing on social media as well?
We post the everyday moments of our lives which, at the minute we upload them, become the property of the corporation we just gave them to. Even our social media profiles are not our own, evidenced by the fact that they can only be deactivated but never deleted. And that very system which we the people work to build every single day is now beginning to turn on us and decide who is allowed access and who is not. Soulless corporations are making billions and billions from our profiles, all that money gives them power, and all that power is now telling us how we will live.
Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system
FROM FAST COMPANY: Have you heard about China’s social credit system? It’s a technology-enabled, surveillance-based nationwide program designed to nudge citizens toward better behavior. The ultimate goal is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” according to the Chinese government.
Punishments can be harsh, including bans on leaving the country, using public transportation, checking into hotels, hiring for high-visibility jobs, or acceptance of children to private schools. It can also result in slower internet connections and social stigmatization in the form of registration on a public blacklist. China’s social credit system has been characterized in one pithy tweet as “authoritarianism, gamified.”
IT CAN HAPPEN HERE
Many Westerners are disturbed by what they read about China’s social credit system. But such systems, it turns out, are not unique to China. 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.
Here are some of the elements of America’s growing social credit system.
The New York State Department of Financial Services announced earlier this year that life insurance companies can base premiums on what they find in your social media posts. That Instagram pic showing you teasing a grizzly bear at Yellowstone with a martini in one hand, a bucket of cheese fries in the other, and a cigarette in your mouth, could cost you. On the other hand, a Facebook post showing you doing yoga might save you money. (Insurance companies have to demonstrate that social media evidence points to risk, and not be based on discrimination of any kind—they can’t use social posts to alter premiums based on race or disability, for example.)
The use of social media is an extension of the lifestyle questions typically asked when applying for life insurance, such as questions about whether you engage in rock climbing or other adventure sports. Saying “no,” but then posting pictures of yourself free-soloing El Capitan, could count as a “yes.”
You Will Wish You Watched This Before You Started Using Social Media
A company called PatronScan sells three products—kiosk, desktop, and handheld systems—designed to help bar and restaurant owners manage customers. PatronScan is a subsidiary of the Canadian software company Servall Biometrics, and its products are now on sale in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
PatronScan helps spot fake IDs—and troublemakers. When customers arrive at a PatronScan-using bar, their ID is scanned. The company maintains a list of objectionable customers designed to protect venues from people previously removed for “fighting, sexual assault, drugs, theft, and other bad behavior,” according to its website. A “public” list is shared among all PatronScan customers. So someone who’s banned by one bar in the U.S. is potentially banned by all the bars in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada that use the PatronScan system for up to a year. (PatronScan Australia keeps a separate system.)
Judgment about what kind of behavior qualifies for inclusion on a PatronScan list is up to the bar owners and managers. Individual bar owners can ignore the ban, if they like. Data on non-offending customers is deleted in 90 days or less. Also: PatronScan enables bars to keep a “private” list that is not shared with other bars, but on which bad customers can be kept for up to five years. PatronScan does have an “appeals” process, but it’s up to the company to grant or deny those appeals.
UBER AND AIRBNB
Thanks to the sharing economy, the options for travel have been extended far beyond taxis and hotels. Uber and Airbnb are leaders in providing transportation and accommodation for travelers. But there are many similar ride-sharing and peer-to-peer accommodations companies providing similar services.
Airbnb—a major provider of travel accommodation and tourist activities—bragged in March that it now has more than 6 million listings in its system. That’s why a ban from Airbnb can limit travel options.
Airbnb can disable your account for life for any reason it chooses, and it reserves the right to not tell you the reason. The company’s canned message includes the assertion that “This decision is irreversible and will affect any duplicated or future accounts. Please understand that we are not obligated to provide an explanation for the action taken against your account.” The ban can be based on something the host privately tells Airbnb about something they believe you did while staying at their property. Airbnb’s competitors have similar policies.
It’s now easy to get banned by Uber, too. Whenever you get out of the car after an Uber ride, the app invites you to rate the driver. What many passengers don’t know is that the driver now also gets an invitation to rate you. Under a new policy announced in May: If your average rating is “significantly below average,” Uber will ban you from the service.
You can be banned from communications apps, too. For example, you can be banned on WhatsApp if too many other users block you. You can also get banned for sending spam, threatening messages, trying to hack or reverse-engineer the WhatsApp app, or using the service with an unauthorized app.
WhatsApp is small potatoes in the United States. But in much of the world, it’s the main form of electronic communication. Not being allowed to use WhatsApp in some countries is as punishing as not being allowed to use the telephone system in America.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH SOCIAL CREDIT, ANYWAY?
The most disturbing attribute of a social credit system is not that it’s invasive, but that it’s extralegal. Crimes are punished outside the legal system, which means no presumption of innocence, no legal representation, no judge, no jury, and often no appeal. In other words, it’s an alternative legal system where the accused have fewer rights.
Social credit systems are an end-run around the pesky complications of the legal system. Unlike China’s government policy, the social credit system emerging in the U.S. is enforced by private companies. If the public objects to how these laws are enforced, it can’t elect new rule-makers.
An increasing number of societal “privileges” related to transportation, accommodations, communications, and the rates we pay for services (like insurance) are either controlled by technology companies or affected by how we use technology services. And Silicon Valley’s rules for being allowed to use their services are getting stricter.
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. It’s a slippery slope away from democracy and toward corporatocracy. In other words, in the future, law enforcement may be determined less by the Constitution and legal code, and more by end-user license agreements. READ MORE
China and their Social Credit System
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