Imagine living in a world in which your creditworthiness not only determines your ability to take out loans and at what rates, but where it also determines every aspect of your life: if you can skip the airport line, what type of car you can buy, what profiles you get to see on dating apps, if you will get promoted at work, or what school your children can go to.
Now imagine that this all-encompassing “creditworthiness” is composed of factors like your friends' creditworthiness, the type of books you buy, the diplomas you got, the parking tickets you had to pay, how many hours you play video games at a time, or how much you donated to charity last year.
This world, as futuristic and crazy as it sounds, is happening in China.
All of this is driven by the Chinese government that is looking for new ways to influence social order. So what they do is to loosen regulation and let the large Chinese tech companies experiment with all Black Mirror-style ideas (by way of collecting data through the dominant Chinese "super apps" like WeChat and AliPay).
And while the government doesn't actually have stake-ownership in these companies (at least not yet or not in a significant manner), the tech companies know they have to abide by the government's agenda. So at the end of the day, there is a lot of collaboration between the Chinese government and the tech companies that create the scores (imagine getting caught cheating on the national university application test "gaokao" and then see that impact your credit score in AliPay).
In a world like this you not only obsess over your score and every action of yours that could influence it. Why not unfriend friends who you think have a low score and might drag you down? Or think of this online shop owner two traveled 530 miles to beat up a customer who gave him a negative review and to force her to take it back?). You are also fully exposed to the government and their agenda. An agenda of control under the cover of protection.
On that note, it's interesting how private players find ways to justify the intrusion on user/citizen privacy. Eric Schmidt famously said in 2009: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." and Lucy Peng, the co-founder and CEO of Ant Financial (the company behind AliPay) says that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”
And if you thought it starts and ends with a social crediting system, you can't be more wrong. The country already has 170M CCTV cameras in place and will be adding another 400M until 2020 (that's a 2-year span!). Today already you can see the Chinese police wearing glasses that scan faces and matches them with a database of criminals and fugitives.
My post here is nowhere complete in capturing the magnitude of these programs being introduced, but I encourage you to take this as a starting point to learn more about what is happening in China. This article here on a page that tries to interpret Chinese law is a good follow-up read on the topic of credit.