In China, it’s becoming common for subjects of the Communist state’s growing digital apparatus to be denied air travel or business class train tickets, have their internet bandwidth throttled, have their kids denied admission to better schools, denied employment in certain sectors, or even have their dogs taken away. It’s called “social credit,” it’s kept track of digitally and with zero transparency, and Beijing is trotting it out in stages by 2020 as a sort-of kinder, gentler totalitarianism.
Think of it as a digital Stasi. Your neighbor catches you smoking in a non-smoking area, and reports on you with his phone. The state telecom notices you’re spending too much time playing online videogames. Your latest social media post gets too many downvotes. Or maybe someone at work you’re having problems with just makes something up. It could be almost anything, but once your social credit score turns negative, your life can become a living hell, and with no legal recourse. You’ll have to become a conspicuously good little Communist to turn your credit positive again.
Or as the government itself says, “Keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
Silicon Valley says: “Hold my soy latte.”
In a piece headlined “Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system,” Fast Company’s Mike Elgan reports on similar, albeit extralegal efforts to create something similar right here in the United States.
Ever gotten out of an Uber and given your driver a low rating because his car was dirty or he drove unsafely? Well, he can rate, you too, as can other “gig” service providers. Elgan writes:
Airbnb—a major provider of travel accommodation and tourist activities—bragged in March that it now has more than 6 million listings in its system. That’s why a ban from Airbnb can limit travel options.
Airbnb can disable your account for life for any reason it chooses, and it reserves the right to not tell you the reason. The company’s canned message includes the assertion that “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.” The ban can be based on something the host privately tells Airbnb about something they believe you did while staying at their property. Airbnb’s competitors have similar policies.
It’s now easy to get banned by Uber, too. Whenever you get out of the car after an Uber ride, the app invites you to rate the driver. What many passengers don’t know is that the driver now also gets an invitation to rate you. Under a new policy announced in May: If your average rating is “significantly below average,” Uber will ban you from the service.
Most anything is ratable by your driver, and Uber’s decisions are final.
Canadian firm PatronScan helps restaurants keep digital track of their customers, so you might want to remove that MAGA hat before coming into view of any security cameras. In New York, the state’s Department of Financial Services has given the A-OK to insurance companies scanning your social media for bad behavior, with higher premiums for anyone flaunting their naughtiness. On the flip side, “a Facebook post showing you doing yoga might save you money.”
I can imagine a very near future with SnapChap filters that automatically filter out cigars, cocktails, and belly fat, just in case Big Brother really is watching.
Spoiler Alert: He will be, if he isn’t already.
On second thought, maybe you’d better rethink that SnapChat filter. It’s just as easy to imagine a world in which insurance companies are allowed to cancel your policy if they catch you posting fakes.
Michelle Malkin revealed last Thursday that she had “triggered” Google’s social credit system. According to a whistleblower, Malkin’s popular michellemalkin.com has been digital-blacklisted by the search & data giant:
Armed with internal memos and emails, former Google software engineer Zachary Vorhies exposed how MichelleMalkin.com (online since 1999) was placed on a news blacklist banning my content from appearing on newsfeeds accessed through Android Google products. I do not advocate violence, publish porn or indulge in vulgarity or profanity (other than my occasional references to Beltway crapweasels). But I triggered the Google Social Credit System and there’s no going back.
Android is “free,” with the operating system powering something like 80% of the world’s mobile devices, but clearly, it isn’t without cost to free-thinking users.
That’s not all. Malkin’s whistleblower revealed that Google has similarly blacklisted Twitchy, FrontPage, The Daily Caller, Legal Insurrection, NewsBusters, American Thinker, LifeNews, and more. These are all conservative voices, and none can be found among the many leftwing sites promoted by Google’s mobile newsfeed. Chances are, if you weren’t already aware of sites like Malkin’s, the world’s near-monopoly search engine won’t help you find them.
In China, digital social control — let’s call it what it really is, shall we? — is being built by the State, for the State. In the West, progressive-run tech and social media giants are doing the job the government can’t.
Either way, the endgame is essentially totalitarian — to control what you can see, what you can do, and what you can think.