Bespoke is a Copenhagen based Strategic Foresight & Experience Design firm empowering courageous organisations and individuals to use the future as a source of hope and inspiration for the present.


Stay in touch with future bites

Social Control of Citizens

THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT IS BUILDING AN APP THAT REWARDS AND PUNISHES THE BEHAVIOR OF CITIZENS. 

tumblr_oys7t3OBij1qghzg0o1_1280.jpg

I.

The city of Shanghai released the app Honest Shanghai in november 2016, during the annual Honesty Week, which celebrates good behaviour throughout the city. Citizens sign up with their national ID number, and the app uses facial recognition software and locates over 3.000 data points from around 100 public institutions, of your personal information. Things like parking tickets and bank information is checked, and after 24 hours, you receive your public credit score: very good, good or bad. The system uses data to first track and then reward or punish individuals and organisations. A good score can result in discounts, and a bad score can lead you to problems with getting loans and tickets for plane and train travel.

The official text released by the government says that the goal is, that the trustworthy freely can walk anywhere they want under the sky, while the discredited will have a hard time taking a single step. Aggressive as that statement might sound, Shao Zhiping, deputy director of Shanghai’s Commission of Economy and Informatization, who is overseeing the app, says that it very well could be the tool that makes Shanghai a global city of excellence, and that they hope the residents learn they'll be rewarded if they're honest, because that will lead to a positive energy in society.

II.

The Honest Shanghai app is one of more that 40 social credit systems run by different local governments throughout different regions of China. By 2020 the central government wants to implement a nationwide social credit system. The long term plan is to collect every possible bit of data relating to the citizens, reaching beyond things such as police records and social security information. In order to create a precise rating for each individual, the government wants to harvest data from industry associations, private companies, and social media.

After you get your initial credit, you can alter it through your behavior. This means that you get bad credit by falling behind on your bills, crossing a red light or spreading false rumours of fellow citizens. You can even get bad credit if you do not visit your parents enough. You get good credit by volunteering to pick up trash in the park, showing a good attitude towards other people, and similar things contributing to society. But what happens if a society turns into a social media? What will constant evaluation from above do to a human being?

III.

The form of social control, that the chinese government wants to roll out could easily end up discrediting religious minorities, civil rights activists or people that disagree with the Communist Party, and then punish them socially.

We are looking at a future of surveillance and social control, the digitalisation of an entire society. Will we some day walk around, always plugged into a digital government organ, correcting and controlling our behavior, and ultimately the way we act socially, on our job, in the street, even at home with our families. Can we even decide whether we want it, or are we moving toward an inevitable complete digital culture, where the only thing we can do is to act according to some governments understanding of, what is good and what is bad behavior?

China wants to bring trust into the society in order to keep the development of the country healthy, but it is questionable if surveilling and regulating the people is a good thing. The amount of data that has to be collected and connected is huge, and might be the biggest problem the government is facing, but it seems determined. This might be one of the reasons why China has been investing a lot of money in artificial intelligence and data storage.

Maybe the future is a divided time, where people who wants to escape the digitalised social control, or simply can not be accepted by society, has to form a parallel and autonomous off-grid society. Move deep into the woods and disconnect, turn back time to before the digital age, where you could do and think whatever you would like. Leave your digital prosthesis behind and disconnect. Reconnect with the physical world. Become analog again. Become human.
 

Rewriting Life