Social score systems popular in China are being increasingly adopted by western companies like Airbnb and Uber.
According to a report from Fast Company, an array of companies now use social credit systems — which assign people scores based on personal profiles or attributes — to dictate everything from whether one can enter a bar to if they’re allowed to use certain apps.
While the idea may sound Orwellian, it has already gained traction in China, where a government-run social score system can be the difference between a good and bad credit score.
In extreme cases, those who have been given a bad enough score are forbidden from using public transit, leaving the country, or being hired for some jobs.
Uber ratings, Airbnb scores, and other social scoring systems are becoming increasingly commonplace. Stock image
According to Fast Company, those score systems are in the process of being rolled out nationally, with some features being tested locally.
Though western governments don’t yet employ social credit scores on the same scale, popular companies and other entities have increasingly turned to customer ratings as their own type social credit.
Among them, reports Fast Company, are fairly important institutions like life insurance companies.
Earlier this year, the New York State Department of Financial Services started to allow life insurance companies to start basing their rates on partially on one’s social media posts.
The rule makes it kosher for the companies to asses one’s risk through posts found on one’s social media pages.
For instance, an avid rock climber who takes to Instagram to air their hobbies to the public may see a higher premium than someone with a more sedentary lifestyle.
Fast Company reports that, in this scenario, even answering ‘no’ when asked if you enjoy rock-climbing might not be able to prevent a higher premium if your social media page shows otherwise.
Uber kicks out users who have a score that is well below the average. Those scores are determined by the driver and are not made transparent to customers.
Other applications of the system exist on more commonplace platforms like Airbnb and Uber reports Fast Company.
The home-sharing and ride-sharing platforms respectively have a customer rating system that can have drastic impacts on whether you can use the service.
Airbnb is allowed to ban their users based on private information provided by the listing home — those bans apparently last for life — while Uber is beginning to boot customers if their ratings fall ‘significantly below average.’
Some companies have taken their social credit systems even further using ratings to ban people from physical locations.
A company called PatronScan is being used by bars in the US, the UK, and Australia to assess whether someone is likely to get in a fight, commit sexual assault, and more.
Other platforms want to ban people from physical spaces, like PatronScan. If flagged by the company, bars in any given country can preemptively prohibit someone from entering
The technology works by scanning people’s ID’s and then comparing it against a database kept by the company that contains information on the customers.
If a person is banned by a bar on PatronScan, they could be theoretically forbidden from entering any bar that uses the system.
Proponents argue that the system is meant to weed out bad actors and make platforms and public spaces safer, however, critics fear that it may actually chip away at things like legal recourse.
By using a system like PatronScan to determine whether someone is ‘violent,’ or Airbnb’s user ratings to deem someone a liability, it may actually skirt certain safeguards under the law.
According to the ACLU, while there’s little chance the US will implement a Chinese system any time soon, sometimes trends can be a slippery slope.
‘There are consistent gravitational pulls toward this kind of behavior on the part of many public and private U.S.,’ reads a blog post.
‘And a very real danger that many of the dynamics we see in the Chinese system will emerge here over time.’
HOW CAN CHINESE CITIZENS INCREASE THEIR ‘SOCIAL CREDIT SCORE’?
China launched a pilot version of the scheme in 2010 in a province just north of Shanghai.
Details as to how it works and the algorithm it uses are thin on the ground but certain behaviours have been found to be beneficial to boosting the score.
Completing community service and buying Chinese products is thought to improve it whereas fraud, tax evasion and smoking in non-smoking areas can drop it.
Companies that pay their takes on time and any bills also receive favour from the system, improving their social credit standing.
In the pilot system, incentives are provided for those with a high social credit score.
Benefits include priority access to public housing, travel visas and job promotions