In China, Your Credit Score Is Now Affected By Your Political Opinions – And Your Friends’ Political Opinions

Posted on Oct 3, 2015 by Rick Falkvinge
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China just introduced a universal credit score, where everybody is measured as a number between 350 and 950. But this credit score isn’t just affected by how well you manage credit – it also reflects how well your political opinions are in line with Chinese official opinions, and whether your friends’ are, too.

In the West, the surveillance agencies have been trying to stay as low-key as possible, while listening to everything and anything. China has taken a different approach. Not only is the surveillance very overt, you are also constantly nudged to fall in line.

This Chinese credit score, which seemed innocent at first, was introduced this summer. More precisely, it was introduced by Alibaba and Tencent, China’s IT giants who run the Chinese equivalents of all social networks, and who therefore have any and all data about you. People can download an app named “Sesame Credit” from the Alibaba network, and the score has become something of a bragging contest, being interpreted as a kind of “citizen status” – and not entirely falsely so. Almost 100,000 people have posted their “status” online on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

A screenshot from the Sesame Credit app, showing score 698 on a scale from 350 to 950.In the West, our credit score is simple. It’s our ability to pay. It’s measured from our assets, our income, and if we have bought on credit in the past and managed it well. That’s it. In China, the situation is… more nuanced. It’s not just that you have bought things, it’s also what you buy that contribute to your credit score, in either direction. If you’re buying things that the regime appreciates, like dishwashers and baby supplies, your credit score increases. If you’re buying videogames, your score takes a negative hit.

In theory, Sesame Credit (and its benefits) is optional. So far. For the time being. But China has already announced that it, or something very like it, will become mandatory from 2020. It has also announced that while there are benefits today for obedient people, it intends to add various sanctions for people who don’t behave, like limited Internet connectivity. Such people will also be barred from serving in certain high-status and influential positions, like government official, reporter, CEO, statistician, and similar.

Things that will make your score deteriorate include posting political opinions without prior permission, talking about or describing a different history than the official one, or even publishing accurate up-to-date news from the Shanghai stock market collapse (which was and is embarrassing to the Chinese regime).

But the kicker is that if any of your friends do this — publish opinions without prior permission, or report accurate but embarrassing news — your score will also deteriorate. And this will have a direct impact on your quality of life.

“Sesame Credit, however, also uses other data to calculate the scores, such as a person’s hobbies, interaction with friends, shopping habits and lifestyle.” — Quote from China Daily Asia

The KGB and the Stasi’s method of preventing dissent from taking hold was to plant so-called agents provocateurs in the general population, people who tried to make people agree with dissent, but who actually were after arresting them as soon as they agreed with such dissent. As a result, nobody would dare agree that the government did anything bad, and this was very effective in preventing any large-scale resistance from taking hold. The Chinese way here is much more subtle, but probably more effective still.

This scheme is far more sinister than it seems at first, as you’re also getting assorted immediate privileges based on this credit score:

If your credit score reaches 600, you have the privilege of an instant loan of about $800 without collateral when shopping online.

At a score of 650, you may rent a car without leaving a deposit.

At 700, you get access to a bureaucratic fast track to a Singapore travel permit.

And at 750, you get a similar fast track to a coveted pan-European Schengen visa.

There are many more examples – these are just to illustrate.

Anybody can check anybody’s Chinese credit score today using the site Credit China, which helps – no, nudges – people to disconnect from friends and acquaintances who significantly draw down your own credit score merely by association: they’re listed as such. All 869,582 of them. While this Credit China rating is purely fiscal at present (but your friends’ score still affect your own score), the general idea will expand to this “social credit score” no later than 2020, according to the official directive.

Do you see what’s happening here? This means that people need to choose between that coveted European vacation and keeping in touch with their old friends who are disagreeing with the regime’s opinions openly. This means that staying in touch with dissidents will cause you and your family to lose out on social benefits. As a result, this will very effectively isolate and neuter anybody who posts unofficial political opinions or unofficial history facts. They’ll effectively be sent into social exile, based on everything they do, write, think, and discuss online.

What China is doing here is selectively breeding its population to select against the trait of critical, independent thinking. This may not be the purpose, indeed I doubt it’s the primary purpose, but it’s nevertheless the effect of giving only obedient people the social ability to have children, not to mention successful children.

People sometimes mock the notion that we’re not at a 1984 level yet. I wonder what it’ll really take to make such people realize that the 1984 point of surveillance has long come and gone.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

H/t Kit (in Swedish).

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the official directive (in English) to construct this Chinese “social credit score” by 2020. As commented on Hacker News, this Sesame Credit appears to be a trial for the official requirement. Link added inline to text above as well.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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  1. Antimon555

    Yes, it’s time we replace the ‘1984’ simile and metaphor, with ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers. Unfortunately, we are going there quickly…

    4 years ago
    1. diy crafts

      In the West, the surveillance agencies have been trying to stay as low-key as possible, while listening to everything and anything. China has taken a different approach. Not only is the surveillance very overt, you are also constantly nudged to fall in line.

      Really ?

      3 years ago
  2. warcaster

    And this is not the worst part of this plan. The worst part is that after they perfect this, they are going to modify new embryos after “model citizens”, so that the vast majority of new Chinese babies in the future will also grow up to be “model citizens” that always listen and obey the government. Now THAT’S beyond sinister.

    4 years ago
    1. Jin Peng

      Have you ever come to China? How much do you know our daily life? if not, shut up. I don’t know why you guys are so credulous of rumors.

      4 years ago
      1. Gray

        Looks like someone’s Sesame Credit’s about to go up!

        4 years ago
        1. Edward Lin

          I am a Chinese and I can definitely sure this is nonsense.Sesame Credit does exist,but its just a loan system runs by Alibaba.And the most important,the government has never involved.Your credit can be only decided by the activity inside Alibaba system,like did you pay the bill on time,pretty common stuffs really.And to be honest,one of the biggest competitor of Alibaba is bank,Alibaba is so powerful that government even did some punish to keep the balance(not our topic today),so there’s no way Alibaba can check data from bank or get support from the government.Besides,nobody ever cares about Sesame Credit cuz its totally OPTIONAL!If I can afford the stuff,why the fuck should I use it?So nobody cares about the credit cuz it only influences how much money you can brorrow,not those bullshits in the article.Yeah,our country has a long way to go indeed,and we always bitching about it and make fun of it in Chinese weird sense of humour,but era of Big Brother is Watching You is gone,so please don’t believe these bullshits anymore,sincerely.

          4 years ago
  3. Howard Treesong

    Much though this will be effective, and it will be, in the long term it is utterly and completely self-defeating. Dissent will never go away if the conditions warrant it. It will just be forced underground where it will fester at ease.

    Also, much though the government wants people to think a certain way, and only a certain way, what it is actually doing is to lay the foundation for its own undoing. What kind of poor system of government needs this? What is that saying about a system of government that has to stifle dissent on this level?

    A society that is not open will suffocate. You can’t have smart outside-the-box thinkers in a closed society because that kind of thinking will get them banned. Society is cutting off its own rejuvenation by disallowing the people who will disagree with government. No new ideas, no new non-approved initiatives that will make a difference.

    The smart people will always make their own conclusion. Andrei Sakharov built the Tsar Bomba at Khrushchev’s behest. After seeing what it had done he became a vocal opponent of nuclear weapons.

    You can’t have an advancing society where everybody is afraid to speak their piece.

    The example of Rumania is given. The Stasi was indeed very effective. What did it do for society? What has Rumanian society achieved? Nothing. They got nowhere. The same will happen in China. People will be afraid to speak up and they will end up not doing anything creative that might draw the ire of the system. And that’s going to be the end of that. Who fears a society that fears itself?

    I like this initiative. I want them to make it as tight as they can make it, with harsh consequences for dissidents. There is no greater tool for the liberation of the people than that which controls them the most. And the beauty of that is that you can tell that to the rulers and they will never believe it before it’s too late :-).

    So go ahead, Communist Party, give everybody a score and make them be afraid of speaking their piece lest their privileges be revoked. And make the consequences as harsh as you can.

    4 years ago
    1. lisaAgnes

      What about people who are afraid to speak their minds because they know that in today’s world, disagreeing too much on the internet (or elsewhere) will torpedo your career and possibly make you unemployable?

      4 years ago
      1. Howard Treesong

        I understand what you’re saying but the same condition applies. If the citizenry cannot find a means to redress grievances, society is running into problems.

        It’s a regime’s wet dream to say ‘you can’t protest or else’ but if it then does not address legitimate problems, it’s only going to fester.

        If speaking out (in a civil, reasoned voice it bears pointing out) is met with harsh punishment and causes people to be ostracized then that is saying something about the society. These are not health environments to be in and they will always collapse. There is no precedent for a society where the elite can run roughshod over everyone else and say “well, you just have to grin and bear it”. That very attitude is what causes the system to unravel.

        Whether or not people are constantly monitored or not makes no difference. If you don’t spend your money at megacorp, and everybody else thinks the same way, then megacorp loses its control because no more money is coming in.

        As ever: the power of the elite is that they have most of the tools and the wealth to control society. The power of the many is that they are legion. .1% of the population can keep 99% of the population under control so long as the 99% accept that control. When one day they say “No more. It stops here.” then the system collapses overnight.

        It’s all about the kind of society one wants to live in.

        4 years ago
      2. tetridae

        Yeah. Well they will miss out on some skilled people. Suit themselves.

        4 years ago
    2. Silentoak

      But the problem is that Chinese money is so deep in the western economy that a flick of the switch will bring that system to the west. The Chinese think in terms of hundreds of years not quarterlies…

      4 years ago
  4. Aero Windwalker

    It’s partially true. Spreading “rumors” will result at lowing your credit score, which is also true in the US (aka convicted scammers).

    4 years ago
  5. DraytonAlan

    If I have a credit score of 666 would that work….

    4 years ago
    1. Falkvinge

      That level makes you eligible for a collateral-free loan of 50k yuan (about $8k). Yes, 666 or above. The Chinese like numeric alliteration.

      4 years ago
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  8. artisanr

    There are really, seriously, truly enough people in China to protest and stop this stuff…but they don’t. They leave it to college kids to die getting shot stopping tanks from moving.

    They seem to have absolutely no problem with all this control and if they eventually get credit lowered for simply having a nose that the party doesn’t approve of they’ll let that happen, too.

    4 years ago
    1. David Graves

      They don’t because they are afraid. Mainland Chinese people simply don’t organize and don’t protest because they are thinking only of themselves. They will dump friends in a heartbeat if it means more financial opportunity for *them*. This system will work brilliantly for Mainland China… not so much for Hong Kong and Taiwan (once Mainland China takes it over).

      4 years ago
      1. Arbite

        Good luck taking it over.

        4 years ago
  9. Konporer

    do ppl even read this kinda shit? that sesme score is based on the taobao account you created with nothing but an email address and most likely calculated based on the points you accumulated from purchasing, weibo, bank account, qq service are all seperare accounts under control of different companies, not to mention most china internet and telephone service is based on anonymous prepaid method(buy a “30 day internet card” you can use the account and pw on it to connect adsl on any phone line limitless of bandwith for a month) or lan whete numerous ppl shares a single internet service account, not to mention ppl with numerous accounts, etc

    unless china simultanousely dismantles tencent, alibaba, sina and China telecom, china unicom, merge their client data bank into one and force real name registration plus only one per person, developing this new technology of keeping bank accounts private while its purchasing history not, forbid any new start up internet site built with non real name register tracking any offline real money purchase(why not buy offline if online is the way the article said) with accurate facial recgn. tech while at the same time with s highly advanced AI to decide whether a purchas is for the buyer himself or is he just buying for others or doing offline vendor business, along with other numerous laughable ridiculous idea being realiszed, i dont see how this article is not a joke.

    4 years ago
  10. Los Los

    * “Anybody can check anybody’s credit score using the site Credit China” but in fact, Credit China is more like government run BBB and the focus is on business credit history, such as legal cases regarding the business. I checked some major companies, and the report is usually empty, or with one or two items. Not as detailed as BBB. I have yet to figure out who the 900k individuals are in the system. They are less than 0.1% of total population so this is by far **not everybody**.

    * The article accuses Chinese government closes 50 websites based on Chinese laws, but failed to link that to the credit system. There is no ground to cry foul here based on free speech only.

    * Sesame Credit, by its website, stated it is a “3rd party credit evaluation tracking system”, possibly created to create your **social media reputation scores** within some circles, but is also **decided by your AliPay history (think Paypal), that is your payment history within the ecosystem of one company’s services, Alibaba**. How is this linked to the government’s business credit score is unknown.

    * In theory, there is nothing preventing any other company to open a 3rd party credit system with different sets of rules, but that is not a reason to attack “China’s” credit system.

    4 years ago
  11. Eugene Waingreaux

    I don’t think the guy in the tank that’s about to shell Zhongnanhai and purge the Party is going to care about his credit score.

    4 years ago
  12. lisaAgnes

    I am not on LinkedIn. Why? I post opinions that the US government doesn’t appreciate, and I post them under my own name. I don’t want people to associate my opinions with the company I work for. Has stuff like this held me back overtly? Probably. Has having these opinions in the USA held me back in ways that are less easily measurable? Almost certainly. Don’t think the USA is innocent of this kind of stuff just because it isn’t overtly and officially supported by our government here in the USA.

    4 years ago
    1. lisaAgnes

      I made my choice years ago. I want to retain my voice. If someone won’t hire me because of the opinions I express on line then so be it. However, I don’t think that this is the choice that most Americans make.

      4 years ago
      1. tetridae

        Suit themselves if they miss out on you then. I agree most people likely won’t speak their mind but those are rarely the people with any interesting ideas anyway.

        4 years ago
      2. Wisdom

        The most important thing is that you’re free. Let them make money and remain unhappy. They can only have bad influence on the society. If you need LinkedIn to express your opinion, you’ll be on it. It’s your opinion and not the opinion of company you work for.

        4 years ago
    2. HungarianHornTales

      I am! I can’t stop thinking about it. We’re already doing it in more ways than that, the more I think about it the more I realize it. Every American Citizen has a federal credit score. When were we given the choice to decide on that? People in my life keep expressing things like “well, I rejected my credit score” or “yeah but…” There’s no rejection, there’s no but, nothing stops the government from creating and monitoring it, or institutions using it.

      We engage in enough of the behaviors already (Wellness Rewards, loyalty points) and we already have consumer products with profiles on social media. There’s a pretty thin line between a “funny” product page and that page holding equal value to another person.

      That people are not talking about it, are not taking it seriously is the beginning of the end. That China has been testing this for a year and most people have never even heard of it should terrify everyone. “No one” ever realizes until it’s too late. Once you justify any of it, you can begin to justify all of it. Unless we speak up and loudly now, we are looking at Orwellian Dystopia for the Digital Age.

      Did I mention it’s available in America?

      4 years ago
  13. KnowledgePower Marketing

    To clarify, everyone has an equal chance to benefit. Just… some are more equal than others.

    4 years ago
  14. Dean James Silva

    wow this is so scary

    4 years ago
  15. Jin Peng

    I’m a Chinese, I don’t know how this guy got the evidence about this. What a ridiculous article. If you haven’t lived here, Please don’t writte those stupid things that you had never experienced, OK?

    4 years ago
    1. lancelotlamar1

      Way to go Jin. I’m sure your score just increased!

      4 years ago
      1. Jin Peng

        Stupid guy. I didn’t use this service from Ali. Understand? Poor man always gossips on the things he doesn’t know.

        4 years ago
        1. Gray

          Your score is only growing – Keep it up!

          4 years ago
  16. Michael Tmobile

    Reading the story, I notice that it’s source free. Not even “my anonymous Chinese sources tell me”.

    Not a single reference, link, quote, etc.

    From God’s lips to Rick’s ears, apparently.

    Ah, the new investigative journalism.

    4 years ago
    1. tetridae

      You know a journalist doesn’t fuck his sources. That is one fundamental of democrazy.

      4 years ago
  17. tetridae

    At least the rules and surveillance and “score cards” are not secret like in the west.

    4 years ago
  18. Jules

    This wont work. And for simple reasons. To enforce this they would need to exert a level of control akin to North Korea. China already has massive unrest problems, not just in minorities but also with ethnic Han population.
    The flight of capital and their smartest people is already endemic. This will both accelerate and greatly exacerbate the problem. China cannot survive on the backs of low cost labour – they are trying everything to become a knowledge economy. This will put the process into total disarray. Civil unrest wont diminish – the Han will be lumped into the same boat as minorities and the results will be a breakdown rather than control.

    4 years ago
  19. jcwestland

    Everyone from ACLU to BBC is trashing China’s ‘Social Credit Scoring’ system as ‘Orwellian.’ This is hypocritical, given that China’s scoring model comes straight from Harvard Kennedy School’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab and is designed for developing economies that are cash based with large informal economies. The alternative is the US system where ~30% of population is excluded from credit transactions, forced into a ‘cash ghetto’ with uncertain property rights and higher prices.

    4 years ago
  20. James Dean

    If you say something politically incorrect in the United States, you will get fired. What’s the difference?

    4 years ago
  21. theDisabler

    While much of what you’ve written is indeed Orwellian in nature, please note that much of your information is inaccurate. Sesame Credit is run by Alibaba’s financial arm, while Tencent has its own credit rating system. Both of these, while licensed by China’s Central Bank, are completely independent of the government’s social credit platform aimed for 2020, at least as of now. Furthermore, how each platform gathers it’s data is different from one another, unlike what you have suggested above. Though I do agree with your overall sentiment, I would highly appreciate it if you, someone who claims to know about sensible information, would sensibly fact check on the information you disseminate.

    4 years ago
  22. Kumar Dickson

    Good Day, I am a registered private money lender. We give out loans to assist people, firms who need to update their financial status all over the world, with very Minimal annual Interest Rates as Low as 3% within a year to 30 years repayment duration period to any part of the world, If interested kindly contact this email >

    4 years ago