China has the world’s largest population of approximately 1.4 Billion people. The Government of China continues to invest, subsidize, and gain ownership over technologies like facial recognition and social credit systems.
These multi-billion dollar industries are laying the ground work for a digital, algorithmic surveillance state with a propaganda-oriented reward system.
China’s Facial Recognition
China also has the world’s largest, most sophisticated facial recognition network. The facial recognition system uses artificial intelligence, big data, and deep learning to answer who’s doing what, when, and where. The all-seeing video surveillance network can read, track, and predict moving people, cars, and even license plate numbers in real-time.
With an accuracy rate of over 90%, it can identify and classify people by age, ethnicity, gender, and even hair-styles. Even though the system is not perfect, it uses deep learning to better analyze and sift through the vast amounts of incoming data.
The Government and tech companies state it will improve public safety by having the ability to easily identify and capture criminals. The technology can identify a single person’s characteristics within crowds of hundreds of moving people in real time. There will be over 600 million surveillance cameras in China by 2020.
How would you like to be watched every second of every minute?
Perhaps you were late to work one morning and just missed the cross-walk at an intersection. A video of your face appears on a screen at the light, with a message reading “Jaywalkers will be captured using facial recognition technology.”
Say you’re in the elevator and there is digital ad space. Facial recognition software could instantly scan, recognize your face, and then display targeted advertisements geared towards your interests and hobbies.
How specific will data collection eventually become?
The systems are becoming so advanced they can measure, quantify, and cross-reference data points like skin tone, facial expressions, eye width, and more. This information can be collected and used to determine behavioral-patterns, internal moods, and even future ones. The technology also has the ability to search the real-time information.
Digital environments with smart devices that are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) will be programmed to interact with the social credit system. Facial recognition combined with the social credit system will grant or deny access to physical locations and certain situations.
The all-seeing surveillance environment is not for public safety, but an invasion of privacy that further erodes freedom of thought and action. Chinese consumers have little to no privacy protection. Google, YouTube, Facebook, and more than 8,000 other domains and apps have been blocked in China.
China’s Social Credit System
Imagine being ranked on your levels of value and trustworthiness as a citizen based on a scale of 350 to 950 points.
As a ranked citizen, each and every one of your behaviors are tracked, analyzed, and either rewarded or punished. It’s like Pavlov’s Dogs on steroids.
Each citizen has a searchable profile of data collected from both private and public sources that determines your overall ‘social’ credit score. The government hopes to have the system complete, rolled out, and in use by 2020.
- Get a traffic ticket: – 5 Points
- Earn an award at work: + 10 Points
- Play >10 hours of video games/day: – 8 Points
- Volunteer for 2 hrs: + 6 Points
Your points are required to be backed by official documentation and facts. The overall score is tracked in real time. If you are an ‘exemplary’ citizen with a high ranking, you could potentially skip healthcare waiting lines, easily obtain a loan, or even waive certain deposits or fees.
However, if you have a low ranking, you could be barred from traveling, banned from certain jobs or schools, and even named a “Bad” citizen on a publicly shamed list. You could even be judged and demoted for your day-to-day purchases and consumption. For example, if you buy alcohol or eat too much fast food, it could affect your score.
Sesame (Zhima) Credit
Sesame Credit is the most popular social credit system currently being used in China. It was developed by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of the e-commerce titan Alibaba. Alibaba is the Amazon.com of the East, and its success lies in its ability to gather vast amounts of user data across multiple platforms. It collects over 3,000 specific data points on each individual customer and relays that information to Sesame Credit.
Sesame Credit also gathers data from AliPay, the leader in online and mobile payments. China’s digital economy is a commercial success. The reasons for this are the large young market, rich digital ecosystems, and the government oversight of the tech sector.
However, there is a trade-off:
More bureaucracy = less risk and innovation (key ingredients in advancing technologies).
Sesame Credit is marketed to the public as a way of promoting trust and convenience. They also incentivize and glorify people who have high social credit scores. The true goal is obedience and loyalty towards authoritarian regime. Through the systematic erosion of freedom, people are losing independent, critical thinking skills.
President Xi Jinping can now potentially rule the country for life. The National People’s Congress (NPC), just shy of 3,000 delegates, voted to remove the two-consecutive five-year term limits that were previously in place. In addition, mandatory “Xi Thought” ideology classes are being implemented and taught at universities. Xi has goals to make China a “fully developed, rich, and powerful nation by 2049” and plans to do so at all costs.
How Similar is the West?
China’s situation has been jokingly compared to Black Mirror, 1984, and other dystopian stories, but the frightening truth is that it is quickly becoming a stark reality for Chinese citizens.
As Americans, we are more concerned over Chinese tariff threats than the possibility that we are also well on our way to a complete surveillance state.
Surveillance is a form of political power and social control. Some people believe it makes them a better citizen, but the question becomes: am I acting the way I am because I choose to or because I fear the consequences of not acting a certain way?
Needs drive behaviors, and behaviors drive decisions and actions. If people’s needs and behaviors are restricted or controlled, then the decisions they make are not their own.
A surveillance state is a complete, controllable grid that exploits privacy, freedom of thought, and political dissent.
Technology is not inherently good or bad, but simply a tool that makes processes more efficient.
Western Credit Scores
Western credit scores are far from perfect. They determine what ‘risk’ the lender takes and provides the consumer with a FICO score. The FICO score typically ranges from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the less risk you are to a lender. FICO scores are collected from these three credit bureaus:
Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion
These companies are in the business of collecting personal financial information. They create a very detailed, in-depth profile about what you earn, spend, owe, and borrow. These companies make more money by knowing more about you and then selling it.
These companies are private with no government affiliations. However, they are affiliated with banks.
These three “bureaus” sell bulk lists of customer profiles to most banks and credit card companies. The banks make their decisions based on what the credit report indicates. It is a cyclical relationship. Banks rely on credit companies, and credit companies rely on banks.
The U.S. GDP is the largest in the world, hovering around 18 Trillion. Because we have the largest GDP, our vast amounts of digital data is like a treasure trove to both foreign and domestic interests.
One example is the on-going Equifax breach that has exposed almost 150 million Americans, roughly half of the total U.S. population. It’s not just Equifax, conglomerates all over the world are being breached every day. With each breach, consumers are more at risk to identity theft and fraud.
We see more and more video surveillance in U.S. cities. ‘If you see something, say something.’ Many people turn a blind eye to privacy protection in our country. Net neutrality has officially been repealed, Social Media continues to sell our personal data, and a police-backed drone surveillance program (using Amazon’s facial recognition) is in the works.
Recently, over 100 Amazon employees sent a letter asking Jeff Bezos (the richest man in the world) to stop selling facial-recognition software to police. Amazon Web Services (AWS) ‘Rekognition’ is state of the art facial recognition software. There are over 2,000 government agencies already using AWS. Amazon Web Services is the “Trusted Cloud for Government.”
Power rests in the hands of those who have access, control, and delivery over information.
“Today, the internet is run by giants. A handful of American tech behemoths — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — control the most important digital infrastructure, while a handful of broadband companies — AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon — control most of the internet connections in the United States,” – Farhad Manjoo
Perhaps Alduous Huxley had it right, the truth is drowned in the amount of consumption, information overload, and non-stop digital stimulation we are exposed to – it reduces us to egoism and passivity. Huxley feared that what we loved would ruin us.