China is trying a bold experiment to help people trust each other more: The social credit score. Will it work? Does it go too far?
United States


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00:00:16slash money Shiran john is an i t engineer his thirty two years old and he lives in wrong chun china It is a city of around seven hundred thousand people on the east coast of china and he says it is a really nice community but like any city
00:00:33it has its issues The traffic for instance has always been totally crazy So they go to a lot of the cars would would not give way to pedestrians And sometimes when they saw people crossing then they will break all of a sudden and it cost a lot of
00:00:48excess is exactly for example the car behind would bump onto the car in front of the oh the fender bender Yeah we spoke with ranjan through our producer echo one run John says being a pedestrian was just terrifying You basically just had to hurl yourself across the street
00:01:05When you saw a break in traffic and you know hope for the best But now after the changes have happened the cars and they will wait for you The changes that have happened have to do with the implementation of a new policy in china called the social credit
00:01:21score cities like wrong chon are testing out a version of this system and the plan is it will be in place all across the country by the year twenty twenty The social credit score is similar to the credit score we have here in the u s and the
00:01:33idea behind both is this in a big complex economy you have to do business with strangers and you want some way to know whether or not you can trust them whether they're goingto pay back alone whether they'll be a good tenant If you rented an apartment whether the
00:01:48advil they're selling you is you know advil and not a mode eum sae shined out as you know that would be super up China does not have a traditional credit score and this has been causing some problem lt's like people not paying back loans and not really seeing
00:02:07any consequences of not paying back loans but just imposing a credit score system was tricky because here's the thing many chinese citizens just don't have a credit history and a lot of chinese citizens don't even have bank accounts So when china set out to make their trust score
00:02:23they kind of leap frogged over the credit score and came up with something broader and more sweeping The chinese social credit score will measure things like whether or not you've paid back your loans but it also includes behavior like how you act at work or whether you obey
00:02:37traffic laws If you're not giving way to people who are crossing the traffic light your points would get deducted Forget the annoyance of a fender bender if you don't yield to pedestrians and wrong turn these days you might not be ableto take out a home loan or get
00:02:53a good seat on the train and if your social credit score is low or if you're one of the people who doesn't pay back a debt ordered by the court you could end up on something called the list of untrustworthy people or the black list right now the
00:03:06blacklist is in effect nationwide and people on the blacklist can't get a credit card that can take out a loan or open a bank account not to mention a whole other raft of restrictions and humiliations For instance in some parts of china if you're on the blacklist and
00:03:19someone called your phone they will hear this Come on That is a recording basically saying warning This person is on the black list Be careful in your dealings with them and please urge them to pay back their debts Hello and welcome to planet money I'm part of garcia
00:03:45and i'm stacy manic smith were the hosts of planet money's daily podcast the indicator and we've been doing a lot of reporting on the indicator about china's social credit system Yeah china is building a giant system to measure how trustworthy its citizens are This system will reach into
00:04:00almost every part of daily life It will determine things like who can get alone who could leave the country You could take an airplane thie idea of someone tracking our data and using it to make judgments about us That's nothing new We know that companies do it We
00:04:15know that governments do it but china's social credit system will take all of that to a whole new level It is changing how people shop how they socialize how they behave in traffic and even what it means to be an individual This message comes from npr Sponsor fm
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00:04:55exposure to make sure resilience is built into every decision you make Fm Global resilience is a choice Mohr at fm global dot com more than twenty years that's How long olympic gymnastics dr larry nasa are abused The girls and women who came to see him for treatment believed
00:05:15a new podcast from michigan radio and npr digs into how he got away with it for so long Rachel bosman teaches trust in technology and is the author of who can you trust As she was researching china social credit system and trying to consider the broader implications her
00:05:34mind kept going back to this one place I don't know if you've ever seen that episode of black mirror that everyone talks about your nose dive which is just an amazing piece of television Here is a show on netflix kind of a dystopian sci fi show in this
00:05:52episode called nosedive Everyone has a smartphone with them all the time and they're rating everyone around them constantly Every interaction people are being evaluated on how they act I'm uh five starring you five star stacey for you all the time Five stars for you all the time to
00:06:08cardiff in the episode every one of these interactions contributes to your overall score and people can see your score on their phones as you walk around in the world And that score determines all kinds of things that's reserved for members of our prime flight programme You got to
00:06:23be a four point two or over to qualify don't come i don't want you here i don't know What is up with you You cannot have a two six at my wedding can't two sixty year wedding wedding's over hurdle of course rachel emphasizes that this is fiction but
00:06:38she says the show make some really smart points about a system where people have a kind of centralized rating system and kind of live and die by it that we are familiar with a centralized rating system the credit score But how do you build a system like this
00:06:52in a country where a lot of people just don't have much of a credit history Well you confined records of people's behavior in other areas and extrapolate trustworthiness from that and you know cardiff who has lots and lots and lots of data on how people behave big companies
00:07:08of course yeah big companies all the company cos yeah in china the big companies are really big Ali baba is like china's version of amazon it has more than five hundred million customers that is tons of data on what thes customers by and ali baba also owns one
00:07:26of the largest online payment systems in the country and has its own credit scoring system called sesame credit Ali baba knows a lot about how people spend and borrow and how much money they likely have So do other private firms and the government is partnered with some of
00:07:42them to share data data that a number of china watchers believe will be used to formulate people's credit scores those rachel says it's unclear how much data or what data ali baba and other chinese companies are sharing with the government or how the data is getting used The
00:07:58way people that scored it is not somebody where they miss a billet could be what they buy online It could be that i like like a low cut dress wellit's not far from that I mean i think the example that the head of sesame credit the example she
00:08:13publicly gave the press was you know if you buy nappies you're responsible so your school will go up But if you buying video games you you're lazy so your school will go down nappies Yes it sounds so much nicer than diapers course it doesn't of course is that
00:08:30a collection and the weird assumptions that companies make based on our actions does happen in the u s and everywhere else rachel says what's different china is how severe in comprehensive the consequences could be We reached out to the chinese government by the way but they did not
00:08:44respond to requests for comment But the social credit score will not be all about what you buy The goverment is also collecting data of its own and that data will factor into people's social credit scores to and we got a glimpse into how this might work because pilot
00:08:58cities around china have already been testing out their versions of the system One of those cities is wrong Shun where our i t engineer she run john lives and he says the data about him has all been bundled together into a single score So in the system everyone
00:09:13starts out with the score of a thousand What did you bring that from My story's full score So when thousands so he's still got a thousand by the way you could get more than a thousand it's True too Yeah And there's a whole letter grade system behind the
00:09:28point So from nine hundred sixty two a thousand plus points is an a eight hundred fifty two Nine Fifty nine points is a b eight forty nine to six hundred is a c and this is considered a warning level Below that you are a d you're labeled an
00:09:45untrustworthy citizen and life gets really hard You can gain or lose points for all kinds of reasons Get a d u i that is an automatic down grade to a b get into a spat with your neighbors minus ten points give to charity thinking meaning plus five points
00:10:02and if you spread rumors online minus fifty points forget to clean up after your pet minus ten points Keep track of all this neighborhood's have designated watchers people who keep track of neighbors behavior an update people scores oh my god It's like the hall monitors that they used
00:10:19to have in grade school Except now everybody likes now they actually have real power and it israel power Because if you have a really high score you get discounts at a bunch of local businesses Your heating bill goes down You could some cable channels for free including a
00:10:33soap opera channel and a kung fu channel You also get special invitations to community events if your scores low life gets pretty hard no invites no free kung fu channel Also you might not be able to get a promotion at work Even if you've been doing a great
00:10:48job you just won't be eligible And all of this is sort of mind blowing and even kind of amusing to hear about But there are some very real consequences to this system and one person who has experienced them first hand is a man named loud juan he's forty
00:11:02two And he asked us not to use his full name because he could get in trouble with the government for talking to the media Now loud juan usedto work in the coal industry But a few years ago the price of coal in china plummeted Teo that's How i
00:11:18went bankrupt that's how my cash flow got cut off because the money was just gone into smoke loud juan would buy tons of coal from coal mines and sell it to energy plans that needed it But then the chinese government changed its energy policy And so the price
00:11:34of coal tanked and loud Juan was left with warehouses full of coal that he could no longer sell Loud juan found himself in terrible debt he owed various creditors one and a half million dollars and one of them took him to court loud juan told the judge i
00:11:49just don't have this money i can't pay back these loans but the court disagreed and put him on china's dreaded blacklist that bankruptcy does not exist in china in the same way that it does in the us and loud one wasn't really sure what being on the blacklist
00:12:04meant He just knew that he wanted to get back on his feet and get a new business going to pay off those debts The coal business was dead but loud juan had been very successful and he still had good contacts and he decided that he would go to
00:12:16beijing hit up some of those contacts and figure out a new plan so loud on went online to book a train ticket It was a high speed train to beijing he put in his name and his payment and right away this page popped up saying he couldn't complete
00:12:30the purchase Very thin says and this person is on the untrustworthy that list from the court loud one Was confused Why couldn't he booked this train ticket He started looking into the situation the blacklist The blacklist had been rolled out before the full social credit score system but
00:12:49it will be part of that system it started about five years ago and it is involved cracking down on debtors and creating consequences for people who do not pay back their loans And as loud juan discovered one of those consequences was that he could not book a high
00:13:03speed train ticket One thing that comes along with the black list they're on transport lists that you're barred from high end consumption which means that you can't take a speed train you can fly flying to beijing loud juan says takes ninety minutes but that's considered luxury travel so
00:13:24he couldn't do that he would end up instead taking the slow train to beijing which is fourteen hours and loud one was blocked from booking a lot of hotel rooms in beijing because that was considered a luxury expenditure trying to start this new business began to feel impossible
00:13:41thing way too new business has been already blocked and when loud one went to his bank he found that all of his accounts and cards have been frozen One morning when loud juan was driving through the center of town he discovered another aspect of being on the untrustworthy
00:13:57list On one of the electronic billboards by the side of the road was his face just like up on a big billboard another big electric screen by the side of the big plaza There are like huge screens and they're very eye catching You can really say them from
00:14:16afar and i saw my my pictures on that squints picture from my id card and my id card number and my name the billboard said This man is untrustworthy loud juan says Thes billboards are all over town lad juan says You started to feel self conscious about it
00:14:33all the time It hit him really hard to go out ever since that i actually intentionally reduce my contact with the with the outside world and also i try not to go to this get togethers with friends Why do you do that Why do you feel i'm afraid
00:14:55that people would look at you from a in a different way and i don't feel confident anymore blood juan says whenever he went out whenever he'd see the billboard he would just stop and watch it for a while Scrolling through the untrustworthy is waiting to see if his
00:15:09face would come up But one day when he was doing that he saw the face of someone he knew for three way used to be working in the same industry as i did Oh no up there these had been successful business people like loud juan and now they
00:15:27were in the same position he wass so he called some of them up started arranging dinners where they could all meet up and talk He says the other people on the black list are now the on ly people that he can really relax around about that that was
00:15:40actually in a society The widespread attitude towards us is very resistant people They will think why are you cure being happy Why do used to have time to be happy Why do you not go out and to make money to pay back your loan So far loud juan
00:15:57says he has paid back about three hundred thousand of the one and a half million dollars that he originally owed so still about one point two million to go How long do you think it will take to pay off the rest T say i think maybe over two
00:16:13years but even when loud juan does manage to pay off his debts getting off the blacklist could be hard We talked to lawyers in china who deal with this and by all accounts getting off the blacklist even if you've paid your debts while it's technically possible but it
00:16:29just never seems tto happen We reached out to china's supreme court about this issue but they didn't respond to requests for comment but loud Juan says he will keep paying off his debt He has to believe there's a way off this list Meanwhile china is moving towards the
00:16:44full roll out of the social credit system and by twenty twenty the system is meant to be in place all across the country After the break we try to understand what this all will mean for china's economy and for its citizens Support for this podcast and the following
00:16:59message come from grow with google from coding to it support grow with google is helping americans across the country learn new skills for the digital age learn mohr and get started at google dot com slash grow Okay stacy when we are trying to evaluate this social credit system
00:17:17that china is in the middle of rolling out one thing we talked about a lot is it it just feels kind of creepy like neighborhood watchers watching everybody's every move undeniably creepy I mean at least to us But when we talked about this with she run john the
00:17:32thirty two year old engineer in wrong chun that pilot city he told us to him the monitoring does not feel creepy Fact he says that it's made people act better Like he used to be someone who did not stop for pedestrians when he was driving afterwards I want
00:17:48you I should not have done that now ron Jon says he always stops and he just feels better about himself In fact he thinks this system is a kind of step in the evolution of societies and people living together where the needs of the community are put ahead
00:18:03of the needs of the individual for being there is the one thing i feel people have become more Friendly i think in the history of human being developing towards like communities if everybody can't follow the rule it i'm for it it's very good for you know every individual
00:18:23living in the city On the other hand one of the reasons that the system gives so many people a lot of pause the chinese government will almost certainly be using it to try and control its population even more than it already does to bolster its own power Remember
00:18:39one way to lose a lot of points in your social credit score is to quote spread rumors online most definitely and you know the whole time that we've been working on the siri's i kept thinking about this one little scene from the black mirror episode and i know
00:18:53that it's fiction but it really stuck with me and i haven't been able to shake it and it's the scene where the main character is practicing her laugh in the bathroom here and she's trying really really hard to seem happy and joyful so that people will like her
00:19:07and give her a high rating when they interact with i think part of all this that i find the most troubling is that it makes emotions like anger frustration or even sadness into a liability And it starts to kind of sucked the authenticity out of human interactions and
00:19:27kind of punishes people for being human for their own humanity Really if you like this episode please check out our show The indicator from planet money hosted by its ten minutes or less comes out every day and you hear stories like this one or on the psychological impact
00:19:51of recessions or sometimes lighter stuff like why the price of freedom is is going up in the white house vending machine Even though corn prices were going down it was an interesting mystery to solve Oh yeah but we saw that we did The indicator is produced by constanza
00:20:04gallardo echo along on dorian's rafi on wear edited by patty hearst in today's planet money episode big shoutout was produced by sally helm Also we actually want to emphasize echo long's role in this She didn't just translate for us She also did all of the original reporting about
00:20:22this story For us we really appreciate it An absolute star Also quick note planet money in the indicator are both looking for interns Just we are good job Paid a lot of leeway to help shape things Plus you get to hang out with us What could be better
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