China's social credit system

China is building a system to give its citizens access to mortgages and car loans, and to punish those who break the rules.

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The Basics

China's social credit system has been described as a nationwide, all-encompassing personal rating mechanism, used to punish and reward citizens based on their financial history, personal contacts and even the amount of time they play video games.

In reality, the social credit system does not produce a single, nationwide credit rating for Chinese citizens. At least not yet. In fact, many people may not have a social credit score, or even know if they do.

Announced in 2014, the social credit system has been tested across a patchwork of social and consumer apps and local government pilot programs (like those already running in Shandong and Xinjiang).

The nearest thing to a nationwide score for Chinese citizens is likely the Supreme People's Court's debtors list, which contains the names of 14.5 million people with longterm debt.

The official social credit system is slated to roll out in 2020. Shortly after announcing the system, the People's Bank of China granted approval to eight private firms ($) to run their own pilot programs. Since then, local government-led ratings systems have also sprouted up across the country as well.

Five years on, the future of the system is somewhat uncertain. When it is fully rolled out, it may ultimately gather data from disparate sources that already exist-- like the debtor's list, local government data, and individual browsing histories and social media activity to compile metrics wherever available.

β€œThe social credit system is just really adding technology and adding a formality to the way the party already operates,” Samantha Hoffman, a consultant at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Foreign Policy.

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