Chinese tech crackdown continues amid privacy concerns

By Jonny Lupsha, News Editor

Tech giants in China face fines for monopolies and processing user data. Chinese companies like Didi, Alibaba and Tencent have been hit hard by antitrust regulators scolding potentially monopoly practices and privacy concerns. However, China is in the process of building a vast “social credit system”.

The collection and use of private data in China is a cause for complaints against the tech and data giants. Photo by cittadinodelmondo / Shutterstock

The Chinese private sector has always had delicate relations with the Chinese Communist Party. It appeared to take a big step back on July 7 after three of its biggest tech companies – Didi, Alibaba and Tencent – were hit with significant fines for allegedly breaking China’s antimonopoly law. Along with concerns expressed by the government that companies do not seek legal permission for various mergers and acquisitions, there have also been complaints about how they have handled user data.

At the same time, the Chinese government has often made headlines in recent years for its continued development of a “social credit system”, which collects citizens’ data and makes heavy use of it. In his video series Take control of your personal dataDr. Jennifer Golbeck, professor at the College of Information Studies and director of the Social Intelligence Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park, explained how it works.

Finally, a different kind of credit score

China does not have a credit score system like the United States for a number of reasons.

“A lot of people don’t have a credit card and loan debts are tracked and applied differently; this makes a credit scoring system similar to that of the United States not suitable, ”said Dr Golbeck. “China knew it. They needed a way to assess the reliability of citizens, especially when it comes to loans, but potentially for other things. Their solution was the development of the social credit score.

With C, it started off as a way to measure their ability to repay loans, but it evolved to measure their liability – “or their compliance, depending on who you ask,” she said – in d ‘other areas.

“Bankruptcy does not exist in China the same way as in the United States, but the penalty for defaulting on debts was relatively minor,” said Dr Golbeck. “As a result, a lot of people just gave up the money they owed. With the introduction of the social credit score, people who have not paid off their debts and have been sued could have a low score. ”

Having a very low score results in being blacklisted for the nation. The consequences of being on the blacklist have been called downright dystopian.

The blacklist

“People who are on the blacklist […] are not allowed to board most types of rapid transport, ”said Dr Golbeck. “They can’t buy plane flights and they can’t take fast trains. Sometimes when you call someone who is on the blacklist, before they answer, the first sound you hear is like a police car siren, followed by a recorded message that tells you the no one you call is untrustworthy and you should exercise caution when dealing with them.

Large digital billboards in some cities scan photographs of blacklisted people, posting their names and ID numbers to warn people to interact with them. They are also sometimes shown before films in theaters. Blacklisted people can legally be offered fewer TV channels on their cable subscriptions, or have their internet service slowed down, according to Dr Golbeck.

While the blacklist initially consisted of those who had not paid off their debts, the developing social credit system also lowers the scores of those who do not stop for pedestrians at crosswalks or pick up afterwards. that their dogs have left for the streets. It also points out people who buy things that are legal but the CCP doesn’t want them to buy, or people who spend more time playing video games than the government would prefer.

How do they know?

“There are neighborhood wardens who monitor people’s behavior and report it to a central system,” Dr Golbeck said. “In addition, China has widely deployed surveillance systems, with cameras in many public places. They also have a very advanced facial recognition system that is able to identify people as they move around public places.

This collection and use of private data makes the country’s complaints about the tech giants and the handling of data all the more surprising.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

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