Thursday, December 21, 2017

Black Mirror Big Data Becomes Big Brother In China

And maybe coming soon to the US as well, enough to make Orwell sit up and take notice.

The first show of the 2016 season of the sci fi TV show, "Black Mirror," called "Nosedive," showed a future society where people have overall social scores (1-5) that are constantly being changed based on what they do and who they interact with and how.  Access to many things is based on one's rating.  The female lead has a middling score and wants to raise it by attending wedding of friend with higher rating,  Her efforts to do so lead her to do things that make her rating fall, which then leads it to nosedive as others downrate her and dump her,with her ending up in prison.  While not quite that far gone, a system like this seems to be emerging in China, including the phenomenon of people dumping others whose social rating is falling, thus putting them into such a nosedive.  However, the scores are 350-950, resembling FICO financial ratings used initially by mortgage lenders in the US.

The emerging system is described in a recent Wired article by Mara Hvistendahl (probably Norwegian or Danish) who is currently living in China and has a low rating she has been trying to raise as she is shut out of buying various things due to it,  I suspect part of her low rating is because she is a foreigner, which she never mentions as a possible reason, but her description of how the system works and is being developed jointly by the Chinese government in conjunction with Alibaba through its Alipay system, particularly its Zhima "credit scoring system."  It was initially a commercial system based on what people buy, but using big data goes much further to rate more broadly how people behave and with whom.  Thus a journalist who reported on corruption now has a low rating and cannot do many things.  Tyler Cowen has a link to this in his assorted links for Tuesday the 19th on Marginal Revolution, but I am having trouble linking either to either,

Curiously in yesterday's "China Watch," a pro-Chinese government monthly newspaper that comes with the Washington Post, bragged about parts of this system in two articles.  One entitled "Alibaba credit scorer looks past deposits" reports on how its advanced "risk control" system is bringing in insurance companies  to help businesses avoid not getting paid.  The other, "Recruiters Switch On To Social Media," reports how businesses search for possible employees by looking at their social networks on social media..  The benefits to those who might gain are stressed, but no possible downsides or criticism are mentioned.

Hvistendahl points out that much of this already going on in the US, with all of us being rated constantly by far more entities than we are aware of on grounds we shall never discover. What is missing here so far is a government drive to centralize it and exploit it for broader purposes of political and social control at least for now.

The article concludes with how the system in China is increasingly shifting to using facial recognition systems in all this, with one person she spoke with having experienced false facial recognition.  As it is, the Washington Post itself had a story on Wednesday on the main guy in China developing the system.  There was no mention of failures in it, although there was a brief mention of how privacy activists are concerned about with the spread of ubiquitous public surveillance cameras, something happening in the US as well, if a bit more slowly.

Indeed, George Orwell would be proud.

Barkley Rosser

1 comment:

Blissex said...

In the UK (and the USA) there are already extensive databases of "unreliable" people, and blacklists that most public-funded and many large private employers use at hiring time, similar to the "no-fly" lists in the USA, and once someone is on them it is practically impossible to be taken off, because they are also secret.
The justifications are always the same: potential paedophiles and suspected women abusers, extremist or disloyal thinkers, who wants to have them working among decent middle class people?