Imagine being told you can’t participate in society because of the things you believe? In China, this is already happening with something called a social credit score. And it’s possible it could happen in America as well.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi, Emma.

Emma: Hi, Brittany.

Brittany: So, today I wanna talk about something that terrifies me. In fact, I probably should have used this as a Halloween episode because it is so scary. and, you know, I don’t like to promote fear. You know, we’ve talked about this before, that by, you know, instilling fear in people. That’s how a lot of bad policy is made. But I do think it’s important for us to be on guard. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, professor Moody always says constant vigilance against, you know, the dark forces of the world. So I think we always need to be aware of what’s going on, even if it’s scary so that we can stop it. So what I wanna talk about, today is an idea that’s taken off in China. And honestly, we could do a whole episode on the China threat, because there are a lot of really scary things going on right now in the world. And I don’t just mean COVID stuff. I know people hear China and they think COVID, but other things. Things that really have effect in our country, which is crazy because China’s so far away, but there’s a lot of scary things. But today I wanna focus on something that they call the social credit score. So I want you to imagine for a minute that you live in a place that has a system where you are based on maybe how much money’s in your bank account, or who your parents are, or worse, this one is really scary to me is what your political beliefs are, what your personal views are. Now, imagine that you get a score for each of these. Like you get points, and I don’t, you know, it could be that more points are bad, or more points or less points are good. you know, however, it works. But imagine that your score would stop you from doing things like buying a house, you know, buying a car, having a bank account, or even, you know, going to certain social events. So you become a person whose entire worth is based on this score that the government creates. Now, the scariest part about that is in China, this is what’s already happening. And if we aren’t, you know, careful, it could happen here. People always love to say things like, it couldn’t happen here. This is something I think, could very well happen here. So let’s give some background on this very scary thing. So China is already, you know, an oppressive country. So many terrible things happen there. There have been if people are different, there’s a large Muslim population there and you know, at one point they were going around and kidnapping all the men and sending them to camps. I mean, this is terrible. We talked about North Korea in another episode, and a girl who escaped North Korea talked about the only reason that North Korea is able to be so oppressive is because they have China backing them. They have them kind of, yeah. Protecting them. So, very scary, censorship there, which I would like to talk about in another episode, is so bad that they don’t show movies. So, like, pirates of the Caribbean was not allowed to be shown in China because there was a ghost in one of ’em. I don’t remember, like spirits or something. And because they don’t believe in religion, it’s a secular country, which means there’s no religion there. It’s actually almost illegal, I think, to have a religion. They can’t show things that are of what they call like the spiritual world, even though you may not believe in ghosts. Right. They consider that to be like a religious thing. So very bad censorship, but a lot of people don’t know what’s going on there. Sometimes Americans go over there, find that their Facebook and Instagrams don’t work. So very different country. So already this is pretty bad. Now imagine, you know, your daily activities are, are tracked and recorded. Imagine speaking up in class, maybe you’re a student and you don’t believe in something your teacher’s saying, and you get docked for that. You get these scores. So this isn’t new. it’s just an expansion of a credit score system that China, and we have one too already implemented back in the 1980s. And Emma, I was wondering if you could explain to us a little bit like what a credit score is and how that impacts even stuff in the us.

Emma: Yeah, so if your parents own their home, they are very familiar with the credit score system and sort of how that works. Basically, what it is, is it ranks or not ranks it, takes all of these data points about your financial history and puts them together into a uniform score. So basically what they do is they look at, do you have any lines of credit open? Which means do you have a car that you have a car payment for? Do you have a mortgage? Do you have student loans? Do you have credit cards? And out of those, out of those accounts, how much do you owe on each of them? And they use that to come up with your credit balance, which is how much credit’s available to you versus how much are you using. And it’s tricky because even if they give you, even if the banks and the loan companies give you a lot of credit, they actually punish you on your credit score for using all of it, which is an interesting thing and doesn’t really make a lot of sense to people and a lot of people get stuck with bad credit because they don’t understand that, and it’s kind of buried in the fine print. But also they use your payment history. So if you’ve ever been late on a payment, if you were laid off from your job, or if you had something come up financially, maybe medical bills or something like that, and you were late on a payment, that actually stays on your record for seven years. So if you had any sort of tax trouble, I know in certain states that will be reported on your credit report. All of these different factors come together and they actually have a uniform scoring system. And it’s, very far.

Brittany: There’s a couple of ’em though, right? There’s a couple different.

Emma: So yeah, there are a couple of different credit bureaus. Yeah, there’s FCO and Experian, and I think there’s one other one.

Brittany: TransUnion.

Emma: Yeah. TransUnion. And they store all of this data. And a quick aside here, one of the big problems with that is that the data’s actually not very secure in these places, are constantly getting hacked into, and people’s data is actually being leaked and their identities are being scary, stolen from it. Scary. So super scary. Now, moving on into what a social credit score is. Brittany, do you wanna explain why? This is basically just an extension of the existing credit score system that we have.

Brittany: Yeah. So right now, you know, it’s student loans, like you said, credit cards owning a home. But this is so much worse because this would be like we talked about your relationships with people, things, your political views, things you say. So this is very scary because this essentially means the government is in every single aspect of your life, which in China’s already a daily reality, sadly. But this takes it one step further. Now, Emma, the thing I wanna touch on now, which is really scary, is, like I said, people assume that you know, this couldn’t happen here, but we’re already seeing that or already seeing traces of that. So I’ll start and maybe you can kind of add on to something. So one thing I think to be really cautious of are this idea of a vaccine passport, or even the idea of being tracking vaccinations in general, and the reason that scares me is I’ve already seen articles that say things like, if you’re unvaccinated, in fact, it was very sad, there was a libertarian organization that wrote about this, and it may be very upset that said, if you don’t get vaccinated, you shouldn’t be able to be on health insurance plans. One of the reasons this is so silly is, you know, smoking is very bad for you, but people who smoke can still be on insurance plans. Being unhealthy is bad for you, but they’re still on insurance plans. Yeah. So, very scary thing. So not only that but there have also been people calling for, you know, if you don’t have vaccines, you shouldn’t even be allowed to go to the doctor. Yeah. other people have called for, and this is the one that really scares me. I saw someone go as far as say, if you don’t have a vaccine, you shouldn’t be able to get a bank account. So there are people calling for people to be shunned from society because they don’t, they’ve chosen not to get vaccinated. And one reason this really scares me is this is livelihood. You know, there’s such thing as what we call voluntary association. So if somebody doesn’t want to let you in their business because you are not vaccinated as much as maybe we don’t like that they’re allowed to do that. Right. If somebody doesn’t wanna let you in, cause you’re not wearing a mask, maybe we don’t love that, but they are allowed to do that. But let’s think about a bank. There’s so many things you can’t do in society if you don’t have a bank account, you cannot buy a house, you cannot buy a car. You can’t, there’s so much you can’t do. And it also signals to the government sometimes that you’re like a, you know, that maybe you sell drugs or you’re doing something bad. Because you’re dealing in cash. So there are a lot of problems with this because again, this, these ideas, these pro proposals already are saying people should be limited or given, you know, different status on whether or not they’re vaccinated. Emma, do you have another point?

Emma: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting. I wanna talk really quickly about some of the things that are currently being used as social credit factors, I guess in China, and I think you guys will see very quickly the similarities between sort of the vaccine stuff that we have going on today and what is happening in China. It is not a far cry to say that the vaccines could very easily become a part of this. So basically how it works right now is there are a couple of private companies that are doing this. It’s like a test pilot system and China is trying to say, oh no, this is voluntary, we’re not gonna force anyone to do it. But, you know, I think we all kind of know what the deal is there. That doesn’t really sound like the truth. But basically, people start out with a thousand points. They start out with a set number of points, and if something bad happens, like maybe they get a speeding ticket or they get some sort of traffic fine, or they do something that the government deems negative, they would get points subtracted. But if they donate to a charity or if they have a child or they do something that the government deems as good, they get more points. And basically, the way that these things work is it’s sort of like a database where every person is given an ID number, and if you have someone’s ID number, you can just look them up in the system. Just like if you knew someone’s name, you could look them up on Facebook or Google them and probably find some sort of information on them. Except this has way more private information. So if you play too much time on video games, that’s one thing that China has really been going after is people playing too much video games. That’s something that actually gets your social credit score docked. Or if you, like I said, if you choose to have a kid that’s considered good, they’re even connecting it with dating websites so that people can rate other people’s appearance, and that can even affect their social credit score. So that, you know, some of those things on there are way sillier and way less consequential than whether or not you choose to get the vaccine. So I think it’s only a matter of time if we were to adopt something like this than in the United States, which, like, we have a credit system already. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that could happen. You know, you talk about your Uber ratings, your Airbnb ratings. Oh yeah. Because it’s a two-way street, people are rating each other. It would be very simple for this to all be rolled in together and, you know, dealing with something like this could eventually be a reality. And the reason why that’s so scary is because, you know, those factors can be used to completely exclude unpopular people from society. And this is something, you know, Brittany, you touched on, on religious minorities in China. they are being targeted and sent to reeducation camps, which are basically, you know, their camps for people with unpopular viewpoints. That’s, essentially what Hitler did in, Nazi Germany before they became concentration camps, was just putting people who had the wrong quote-unquote wrong thoughts. Yeah. In these forced prisons. And it’s not too far of a stretch to say that, you know, authoritarian governments around the world could start using this to actually target people. And you know, I, hope, and I pray that America would never do something like that, but anytime you give the government a tool, like a social credit system or something that can be used to separate out who’s good and who’s bad, that’s something that’s very dangerous. And you’re basically giving the government tools to use against you. So it can be kind of a confusing thing to learn about because it’s like, well, if it’s voluntary and if people are signing up, maybe it’s fine. But it’s very different when you combine all of these private things together and then make it something that anyone has access to. It’s not possible to paint a picture of who a person is just by giving them a number. And when you reduce people to a number. Numbers are great, technologies are great, we love advancements, but when you start using it to rate someone’s value in someone’s worth, that’s extremely dangerous.

Brittany: I think you’re exactly right. And one more thing to add to this before we wrap up. You know, we talked about cancel culture a couple of episodes again. or, yeah, ago. Sorry. but that’s one thing that scares me with a social credit score. Cuz imagine you say something that is unpopular. We’re already kind of seeing it. It’s not exactly a number, right? But you’re already seeing that people lose their jobs. People can’t find, you know, nobody wants to work with them all because they had an unpopular, you know, quote-unquote unpopular opinion. So this is really scary. I think we should be on guard and make sure this doesn’t happen here.

Emma: Exactly. Only you know who your friends are. Don’t trust somebody else to tell you for you. don’t trust an app to tell you who people should be in your life. So we’re gonna wrap it up there, guys. Thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you all again soon.

Brittany: Talk to you soon.