China's "social credit" brings us one step closer to Black Mirror's dystopian world

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      Charlie Brooker must feel like a prophet this week. First we reported on Walmart's robo-bee patent application, which sounds like something straight out of Black Mirror, and now real life is once again starting to resemble an episode of Brooker's dystopian anthology series.

      According to a Wired  feature article by Mara Hvistendahl, a Chinese mobile-payment app with a built-in social network is moving real life closer to the Black Mirror episode "Nosedive". In that 2016 episode (written by Rashida Jones and Michael Schur from a story by Brooker), everyone has a personal score out of five, which rises or falls based not only on the popularity of their selfies and other social-media posts, but on their IRL business and personal interactions.

      The Chinese app Alipay (owned by the tech company Ant Financial) includes an opt-in feature called Zhima Credit, which, according to the Wired article, "tracks your behavior on the app to arrive at a score between 350 and 950, and offers perks and rewards to those with good scores. Zhima Credit’s algorithm considers not only whether you repay your bills but also what you buy, what degrees you hold, and the scores of your friends."

      Although Ant Financial has stated that it does not share users' scores or other data without their permission, the company has already integrated into its database a government blacklist of more than six million people who have defaulted on court fines.

      The Chinese Communist government's State Council has called for the creation of a national tracking system to rate the reputations of individuals, businesses, and even government officials, and assign them "social credit" accordingly. (Not to be confused, of course, with the Social Credit political party that held office in B.C. in the 1980s.) 

      According to Hvistendahl's article:

      The State Council has signaled that under the national social credit system people will be penalized for the crime of spreading online rumors, among other offenses, and that those deemed “seriously untrustworthy” can expect to receive substandard services. Ant Financial appears to be aiming for a society divided along moral lines as well. As Lucy Peng, the company’s chief executive, was quoted as saying in [You Xi's book] Ant Financial, Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

      Good people who do their toe-touches just right, presumably.