Imagine a system where your online presence and social media activities could influence your opportunities. A system where a simple comment you made last year on a picture someone tagged your friend in could be used against you when you are out hunting for a job.
As frightening as it sounds, this is the sad new reality in China.
The communist state has created a social tool named Sesame Credit that scores people for how good a citizen they are. Although it might appear to be a simple game, but the realities of it can potentially ruin people's lives.
Since the release of the app in January, there have been some downplayed rumors that the horrifying new system punishes citizens for their social media posts. In truth, Sesame Credit is far more disturbing than that.
In a situation straight from a dystopian sci-fi novel, China’s new social tool does more than monitoring its citizens' Facebook and Weibo accounts. It also analyzes their online purchases and Internet browsing habits to determine their obedience to the state.
“If you post pictures of Tiananmen Square or share a link about the recent stock market collapse, your Sesame Credit goes down,” explains Extra Credits’ video about the program. “Share a link from the state-sponsored news agency about how good the economy is doing and your score goes up.”
The case isn’t much different for online shoppers either.
If you order something from a local, state-approved retailer, your credit score goes up. But if you dare to order something from Japan, for instance, the numbers take a depressing plunge.
As far as repercussions are concerned, good scores reportedly make it easier to get a loan or to obtain the paperwork required travel. Bad scores are rumored to result in slower Internet speeds and restrictions on certain jobs.
The use of Sesame Credit system is currently optional, as in citizens can opt out of the surveillance program anytime they want. However, by 2020 it will become mandatory for everyone residing in China.
As Privacy Online points out, this credit score system is not much different from what the KGB and the Stasi did to prevent dissent from taking hold. They used to plant their own provocateurs in the general population, who would arrest people if they agree with their dissent. This way, nobody could say the government did anything bad and it turned out to be effective in preventing any large-scale resistance.
As for the Chinese system, it seems much more subtle but way more effective.
The Sesame Credit tool rolled out in January and is reportedly run by two firms, Alibaba and Tencent. Since these two companies run all the social networks in China, they already have access to a vast amount of data about people’s social ties and activities.
“Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like, such as about the Tiananmen Square massacre that the government carried out to hold on to power, or the Shanghai stock market collapse,” the American Civil Liberties Union cautioned. “It will hurt your score not only if you do these things, but if any of your friends do them.”
Read More: The Terrifying App That Lets You Rate People
There is already some evidence of Chinese citizens competing with one another to get high scores, according to Quartz, indicating that the government will probably not have a hard time implementing their ubiquitous tracking system.
Watch the video below to find out more about the Sesame Credit tool.