BEIJING — China’s ambitious plan to assign lifelong scores to citizens based on their behavior has stoked international concern, even as the project remains nascent and numerous hurdles must be overcome before the experiment can be implemented nationwide. In fact, the so-called social credit system is merely an extension of the myriad ways the government already rates its citizens. Here’s a breakdown of the systems China has in place.
Supreme Court blacklist
People who defy court orders are barred from numerous privileges, including getting loans, buying houses and sending their kids to private schools. Judges decide who’s blacklisted, and individuals can appeal to be removed once their issue has been rectified. The Supreme Court maintains a public database with full names and identification numbers of those on the list. By the end of 2018, people with bad debt had been prevented from taking more than 17 million flights, 5 million train trips and blocked from acting as executives or legal business representatives 290,000 times, according to the court.
Personal credit rating
China’s central bank sits atop a vast pool of credit profiles for nearly 1 billion people and 26 million enterprises. Its database includes information on bank loans, social security, housing pension, tax evasion and even court rulings. Financial institutions ranging from the nation’s five biggest banks to small loan companies are able to use it to check citizens’ credit scores — preventing those with bad credit from taking on more debt. Records are automatically refreshed after several years and infractions can be expunged, with the frequency of those updates linked to the seriousness of what the person did wrong. The system is similar to credit ratings used in many other countries.
Ant Financial, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, uses the scoring system to track its customers’ creditworthiness. The company suffered some backlash when users discovered they were automatically signed up for it without being notified. This score can affect a range of things, including whether customers need to put down a deposit to rent a bicycle and whether they can obtain loans. Ant argues that its system is needed because so many people — especially those living in rural areas of China — don’t have credit scores (or even bank accounts).