What is your “public credit rating”? The Shanghai government can tell you: Parallels: NPR

Shanghai residents overlook the financial district in June 2016. The Shanghai city government recently released an app that produces a “public credit rating” for residents. A good score can lead to discounts, but a bad score can cause problems.

Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images


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Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images


Shanghai residents overlook the financial district in June 2016. The Shanghai city government recently released an app that produces a “public credit rating” for residents. A good score can lead to discounts, but a bad score can cause problems.

Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images

The Shanghai city government believes it can make citizens more honest with a smartphone app. The city launched the Honest Shanghai app in November during “Honesty Week,” a citywide celebration of virtuous behavior.

Here’s how the app works: You register using your national ID number. The app uses facial recognition software to locate the treasures of your personal data collected by the government, and 24 hours later you get one of three “public credit” scores: very good, good, or bad.

“We want to make Shanghai a global city of excellence,” said Shao Zhiqing, deputy director of the Shanghai Economy and Computerization Commission, which oversees the Honest Shanghai application. “Through this app, we hope our residents will learn that they will be rewarded for being honest. This will lead to positive energy in the society.”

Shao says Honest Shanghai relies on up to 3,000 pieces of information collected from nearly 100 government entities to determine an individual’s public credit rating.

A good score allows users to collect rewards like discounted plane tickets, and a bad score could one day lead to problems getting loans and getting seats on planes and trains.

Shao says Honest Shanghai will one day look beyond government records for other personal data.

Zhu Dake is a professor at Tongji University in Shanghai. He says the Honest Shanghai app would be better if citizens could rate their own government.

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Rob Schmitz / NPR


Zhu Dake is a professor at Tongji University in Shanghai. He says the Honest Shanghai app would be better if citizens could rate their own government.

Rob Schmitz / NPR

“The government is not omnipotent,” Shao says from his office. “In order to give every resident a full score, we’ll need to tap into the data market. We will look to industry associations, private companies and social media. “

Honest Shanghai is one of three dozen social credit schemes operated by local governments across China. They are part of a goal of the Chinese central government to build a nationwide social credit system by 2020.

But skeptics wonder how far will it go before Honest Shanghai becomes Paranoid Shanghai?

“The government asks people to be honest, but it excludes itself from such a review,” said Zhu Dake, professor of humanities at Tongji University in Shanghai.

“The government should also be watched, but who is watching them? ” he adds. “Should we develop another app that allows people to monitor them? If we did, they would accuse us of breaking the law. “

Zhu says the unilateral rating of a nationwide social credit system could lead to what he calls “credit totalitarianism.”

“You are wrong if I say so,” Zhu said. “You have bad credit if I say so. Where will it lead? They could easily expand the criteria and start judging people on moral or ideological grounds. They use modern technology to create a vision of Orwell’s life. 1984. “

City official Shao Zhiqing rejects this line of thinking. He specifies that the application, at this stage, is completely voluntary.

Further, he said, “the government doesn’t rate people. It’s done by a third party. We share government data and they decide what it means.”

Shao added that Shanghai is not paying the third party to help with the app.

The third party is Zhengxin Fangsheng software company. A representative named Wu said his company would not have worked on the Honest Shanghai app unless requested by the government, so yes, Wu said, the government intends to assess the credit. audience of its residents.

Wu added that although the government has yet to pay his company, Zhengxin Fangsheng has outbid other software companies to work on the application.

In the streets of Shanghai, no one seemed to have heard of the Honest Shanghai app. But the interviewees seemed to like the idea.

“It looks like it will help improve the quality of citizens in the long run,” says salesperson Joyce Hu, 30. “As long as it doesn’t violate my privacy, I agree.”

Later, 24-year-old Xuan Zixi had questions about the Shanghai government digging into his personal information.

“Is that like what the US government does? Where they monitor what their citizens are doing all the time? It’s like that, right?” He asked.

As long as it’s the Chinese government and not the NSA interfering in his personal life, Xuan says, he thinks everything will be fine.

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