The American Social Credit Score

The Article

Most people, even if they haven’t read it, are familiar with the great book 1984 by George Orwell. In the book, the government is deeply oppressive. Everyone has a telescreen that is always able to see into the room. Not that every action was always seen, nor every voice always heard, but the threat that a person could be seen and heard was enough to keep everyone in line. Such a system is being implemented in China right now. Most of my readers will be familiar with the oppression. What Orwell couldn’t conceive of in 1984 was that computers could analyze the data without human intervention, and that everyone is seen and heard at all times, waiting only for the computer to spit out a flag for a human oppressor to review…and act on the things we are doing. So in China, they have implemented much of the 1984 style Big Brother regime.

There is another book that is not as well known. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley offers a different type of dystopia. It is no wonder that the book is not as popular. Huxley is hardly the literary genius that Orwell was. Everyone I know who has read Brave New World has to admit that as literary style goes, it is an inferior book. But I am not here to critique style, just to talk about dystopia. Huxley pinned it correct for how the dystopia would overtake the free world.

The proper perspectives is not all together surprising. Orwell lived under an oppressive regime and he wrote about what a regime could become if left unchecked. Ditto that for Huxley, but as a free man in a free society. So for us in the West, the Huxlyian world is closer to what we would expect: Oppression will not be in the hands of a government, but at the hands of our own addicted restraint. Soma is the popular drug that is even given out as payment for a hard days work in Brave New World. The soma is a drug that allows the user to vanish into himself for a safe high lasting just long enough to get you to your next shift. Liquid soma is even the choice for police to use as crowd control. If any riot breaks out, they bust in and spread soma over the crowd and they all disperse to find some brownies somewhere.

All pleasures in Huxley’s world follow similar pursuits. The people do what feels good, taught from an early age to enjoy promiscuous sex, drugs, and everything else bringing pleasure to ourselves. By our desire to want more stimulation, an existential pursuit, we keep going back to the empty well of our own twisted volition. Both Huxley and Orwell present a world that is oppressed; one from an external oppressor (as we are seeing happen more progressively in the COVID era), and another being oppressed by our own personal desire for ease and amusement. To get a deeper dive into what all this means, I would definitely check out the book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.

Now that we understand a bit of these two worlds, I want to make an argument. I want to argue that a social credit score like system is already here. It is not being forced upon us from a government, but rather, by companies. While it is not a total surveillance state that China is (yet), it has the potential to be tapped by a government if they want such data. Possibly even worse, however, is that such data and information can be used against us for a variety of reasons. The government is not all that is to be feared. Perhaps that is why I switched to Linux to begin with! I may not be able to hold onto all of my personal data and preferences, but the the more I can hold onto, the better off I will be in the long run. I want to avoid the social credit score system.

Where the Social Credit Score Lives

Our social credit score here in the west is only imposed on us by our desire to have an easier life. We buy a phone and use the ecosystem provided to “make things easy”. While it does make everything easy for the end user, it also collects a tremendous amount about us and ships that data off to large companies. Our phones and computers collecting data is no surprise to even the most normie of our friends. Let’s talk about places where our data is being collected and how it could be used against us should the world sour.

Most of us have insurance of some kind. Maybe we have home owners or renters insurance. Perhaps it is car or health insurance. No matter the kind, data is to be collected. I have been talking about the dangers of giving our health data to companies like FitBit for a while. A few years back on a video, I even said, “What if their exit plan is to collect a certain number and they sell it off to the highest bidder. I’ll bet the highest bidder will be a health insurance company!” In the last few months, indeed FitBit is selling their company…and the data they have collected. The lucky buyer is Google, or rather, Alphabet, Google’s parent company. And this announcement comes only shortly before their stated intentions to create a health insurance company.

Think about what just happened. As a society, many people have been wearing a device on their wrists that knows when we are sleeping and knows when we’re awake. It monitors our health habits. It can infer when we eat, exercise (or don’t). We give it all the data it asks for and allow it sync all that data to a large company server, all for the convenience of looking at pretty charts and graphs on a tiny little phone screen.

The data carries with it an assumption about our health, and the hard data will snitch on us if we tell the health insurance company a little white lie about our exercise habits. Now all this data is owned by a company that is creating a health insurance division. This data will help them make better ideas about how much to charge for their services.

Of course they’ll dangle their little carrots before our eyes about how much money we could save if we only participated in the “health plan.” Too far fetched? Many companies are already doing it: You have to join the health monitoring program or else pay the higher fees. FYI, that little box your car insurance asked you nicely to put in your car, you know the one…it tracks every mile you drive, measures your effective use of the gas and break peddle, and gives them a real time readout of where you are and when.

In 2019, life insurance companies started combing through your social media posts to see if you are engaged in any risky behavior. Risky, however, is a subjective a term. It could simply mean anything they don’t want you to do. This now becomes part of a package they buy and sell amongst themselves to enrich their own data about you. Are you participating in giving them your personal data?

There is another company worth a brief discussion. Patronscan is a company that provides a service to bars and social clubs. They have one unified system that uses a back end database of “undesirables” to determine if you are worthy to enter their club. That means the more small businesses that are using such services, the wider their data collection net becomes.

Here is how their service works: You want to enter a bar, which has an ID requirement. Rather than doing the simple thing like looking at your ID to be sure it is real and you are of age, Patronscan requires nothing more than a slide of your ID into their freely provided scanner. Your ID carries with it a lot of data; everything that is on the front of the card. The system scans to be sure it is a valid ID.

While there are privacy laws on the books, specifically the CONFIDENTIALITY OF DRIVER’S LICENSE INFORMATION (1798.90.1), which limits what a company can do with data scanned off the license, Patronscan is technically in compliance with the law. They claim their system deletes data scrapped off your ID within hours of the scan. What they tell us in their marketing materials, however, is this:

Spot trouble from 50,000+ individuals known for assaults, chargebacks, drugs and property damage.

Reduce nightlife incidents by as much as 97% by spotting trouble before it becomes a problem. Receive alerts when troublemakers scan their ID including details on why they’ve been flagged.

So technically, Patronscan is in compliance with the law, but their system now scans your ID against other data that the company has scrapped together and confirmed by your ID. And they will give you a go / no-go to enter any establishment that is using their system. If you happen to have been in trouble a few weeks ago in another city for whatever reason, you could be denied your experience at the club tonight.

I don’t visit bars and clubs, but I may need to get around in a strange city on a visit, so what Uber is doing is another example of the American Social Credit Score system. NPR reports May 29, 2019 that they are working on a scoring system that will ban passengers if their rating from the drivers falls too low. On the one hand, this could be a fine thing if you are a young lady picking up a drunken male sex fiend, but will this eventually be used to kick people to the curb based on their appearance, race, or political views? Being that a man was killed in Oregon a few months back for simply wearing a MAGA hat, that is distinctly possible.

More recently, Microsoft has started rolling out their new scoring system. I am talking about their productivity scores of course. This is tied to Office365 professional and Teams for the workplace. Each employee is now being assigned a score of their productivity. The system uses dozens of metrics that include the amount of times you login to your email, how often you @ people in the messages, amount of times accessing company message boards, and logging your activation of your camera for conference calls.

Privacy researchers called out the service and in response, Microsoft decoupled the user names from the reports, but everything else remains intact, including the machine ID. It’s still easy enough to figure out who is who, and while Microsoft didn’t initially design the system to be used for abuse, you can be sure that many people will lose their jobs over low productivity scores.

These are just a few examples. We could talk about SmartMove, a tenant credit scoring system from one of the three credit score agencies themselves, or the move by Airbnb to create a profile of their customers including buying and selling data about confirmed users from social media giants and credit agencies; all to provide a “risk assessment” of you. Many other examples present themselves, and opportunities increase as tech-based services proliferate into the market.

Consequences

Of course, a centralized social credit system wouldn’t fly in the United States. But what about a scoring system controlled by companies that share data? They could effectively do the dirty work of the government without a pesky constitution hanging over their heads. And it would appear that they do, in fact, operate as a social credit scoring system. Many services like Patreon include portions in their terms of service that say anything you do off the platform could impact your use of their platform. Airbnb has a similar condition to use their service.

The end result is a society that has to stay in line, not with law, but with the social whims of the a corporate conglomerate. This is why we are in a corporatocracy, and not a capitalist society. As the companies get larger they start squeezing out their competition. Being the only one left standing, they buy off the legislators to pass the laws that benefit only themselves.

The end result will be a world where we have to play by a companies rules. Here in 2020, we are already seeing this play out. Using COVID-19 as an excuse, we are readily handing over our data, privacy, and freedom to whatever whims some company has asked for. It soon may be required to have a vaccine for COVID-19 in order to fly. Not that you “have” to get the vaccine…only if you want to eat or participate in the world. Thus, to refuse a vaccine means your social credit score has slipped so low that you can’t even enter a grocery store. How long before you are barred from watching videos or passing along messages like this because you have the wrong political views or religion? How long before everything we want to do in our world requires us to have a Facebook account and post exactly the type of things that companies want or else we could be banned from a service. The social credit score is upon us.

Fighting Back

Is there anything we can do? Yes! First, we need to recognize the dangerous services and avoid them. I have not had a Facebook account in a long time, and I do not use Google, Apple, or other mainstream services for anything relating to my personal life (though I have some business Google accounts obviously).

We need to take a stand and deal with a little bit of inconvenience for the sake of our future and freedom. Learn to use Linux for your computer and Lineage or Graphene for your mobile phone.

Learn to say No when people insist you use a particular service that may collect (or have the potential to collect) unnecessary data. Tell your friends why you can’t partake and be bold…if you lived this long without it, chances are, you will pay too high a stance for the convenience.

Pass this information on to law makers. While my faith in the legal system is certainly waning, I have confidence that we can find some good politicians who will run on integrity and stand up to the big tech push.

Finally, become conscientious about life. Walk through the world with your eyes wide open and see what the world is doing. Put on your Tin Foil Hat and be careful out there.

Resources

1.) https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/en/socialcreditsystem/

2.) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1461444819826402

3.) https://www.businessinsider.com/china-social-credit-system-punishments-and-rewards-explained-2018-4#1-banning-you-from-flying-or-getting-the-train-1

4.) https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/whats-in-your-credit-score

5.) https://www.forbes.com/sites/jessicabaron/2019/02/04/life-insurers-can-use-social-media-posts-to-determine-premiums/#310f5cb523ce

6.) https://www.patronscan.com/id-scanner-for-bars/

7.) https://www.npr.org/2019/05/29/728005817/uber-to-start-banning-passengers-with-low-ratings

8.) https://www.fastcompany.com/90394048/uh-oh-silicon-valley-is-building-a-chinese-style-social-credit-system

9.) https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/some-u.s-businesses-already-require-consumers-to-maintaina-certain-social-credit-scorebut-a-government-sponsored-system-is-unlikely

10.) https://www.mysmartmove.com/SmartMove/landlord-credit-check-service.page

11.) https://www.cigionline.org/articles/covid-19-case-social-scoring-systems

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