China’s controversial social credit system has received global attention in recent years, yet while a similar mechanism arriving in the Western world seems implausible, the reality is that its very own version is already being introduced across the digital landscape.
Citizens in China are being ranked according to their behaviour, whereby those who score lower have limited access to transport, hotels, good jobs and better schools among many other restrictions. Offences include criticism of the government, buying too much junk food and posting ‘fake news’ online.
The system resembles science fiction, too distant for some to even envisage, let alone worry about ever becoming a reality in Europe or North America.
Grossly overlooked, however, is that tech companies, particularly stemming from Silicon Valley, are already implementing measures of their own which resemble traits of what is being seen in China.
Political censorship is not exclusive to China. A Facebook whistleblower revealed that the company has a tendency to ‘deboost’ content of journalists based on their political affiliation and what the company deems to be ‘hate speech’.
The insider also revealed that the company would block people for “things that aren’t actually hate speech but that might offend somebody. Anything that is perceived as hateful but no court would define it as hate speech”.
Also straight out of China’s playbook, Facebook has begun rating users on how ‘trustworthy’ they are. Users are prompted to flag ‘fake news’ and if the fact-checking team then deems indeed to be fake.
However, it must be noted that Facebook’s fact-checkers include the Atlantic Council, a pro-war think-tank with oil tycoons and media moguls among its sponsors and former CIA directors and US presidents on its board.
Twitter has long been implementing the practice of ‘shadow banning’, the process, and this is largely determined by , removal from platforms for having the wrong political views
As former Twitter software engineer Abhinav Vadrevu described it: “The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and noone sees their content. So they just think that noone is engaging with their content, when in reality, noone is seeing it.”
An industry leader in accommodation, AirBnB now boasts over six million listings, becoming synonymous with alternative lodging in a little over a decade.
Unsettlingly, however, the platform is now able to block any user it feels like without providing an explanation, largely based on the complaints of a host.
“This decision is irreversible and will affect any duplicated or future accounts. Please understand that we are not obligated to provide an explanation for the action taken against your account,” a company statement read.
Similarly, Uber is dominating the ridesharing boom, with a 65 percent market share in North America and 91 million monthly active users worldwide.
Business Insider revealed in 2014 that Uber would start considering the dismissal of drivers who fell below a 4.6 out of 5 stars on its rating system and, now, it’s not only drivers who are graded.
Drivers now rate customers and, should someone’s grade fall to “significantly below average”, Uber will ban them from the service, according to a policy announced in May 2019.
Uber’s banning becomes more alarming due to the company being at the forefront of the self-driving car industry, whose vehicles will come into the market when 5G is rolled out, which will eventually drive today’s human-driven cars out of the market.
Bad behavior on a night out can now get people in the US banned from bars across the country thanks to a technology developed by PatronScan.
As well as merely checking the authenticity of IDs, the devices – which come in the form of kiosk, desktop and handheld systems – collect age, gender and date of birth as well as knowing which other bars you have attended.
If banned by a bar that uses PatronScan, it would also apply to any other venue that uses the technology, with a bouncer or bartender able to report wrongdoers on the device.
British journalist James Bloodworth worked undercover in 2016 at an Amazon warehouse in the UK to do research for a book on low-paying jobs in Britain.
In that time, Bloodworth revealed that Amazon workers were forced to wear tracking devices which would monitor productivity, showing their exact location, time spent sitting down or even going to the toilet.
“You’re constantly tracked and rated,” Bloodworth stated.
“I found you couldn’t keep up with the productivity targets without running – yet you were also told you weren’t allowed to run, and if you did, you’d get a disciplinary.
“But if you fell behind in productivity, you’d get a disciplinary for that as well,” he said, before adding that it didn’t feel “that you were really treated as a human being”.
These behavioral standards enforced by numerous companies in a variety of industries have effectively brought about a beta version of China’s social credit score system in the West, but will only become more intrusive as every aspect of our lives become digitalized.
Our participation is seen as a form of consent by these companies, which are laying the foundations for what could become a seamless transition to the implementation of an even more stringent and vast points-based system.
With apps that play an integral part of our daily lives introducing grading systems, our morals and behavioural standards are essentially being crafted by those of private tech companies through their own rules and regulations which supersede national laws and deny any sort of legal appeal. A dangerous slippery slope.