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When big data meets big brother

China is known for its “Great Firewall” for online surveillance, and the nation has decided to take it further – tapping data technology to develop a “social credit system” in which it monitors each individual citizen and collates information about their day-to-day lives.

According to Independent, the Communist Party wants to encourage good behaviour by marking all its people using online data.

In this world, anything from defaulting on a loan to criticising the ruling party, from running a red light to failing to care for your parents properly, could cause you to lose points.

Each person is given a numerical “score” that could determine whether they qualify for financial loans down to getting a nicer room in a hotel or a better table at a restaurant.

Your score becomes the ultimate truth of who you are – determining whether you can borrow money, get your children into the best schools or travel abroad; whether you get a room in a fancy hotel, a seat in a top restaurant – or even just get a date.

The government hasn’t announced how the plan will work — for example, how scores will be compiled and qualities weighted against one another. But the idea is that good behaviour will be rewarded and bad behaviour punished, with the party acting as the ultimate judge.

However, it’s believed that this credit system is both public and mandatory, and very likely has no opt out.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has weighed in on the matter and urged Chinese officials to use big data to stop would-be criminals.

He announced his ideas last Friday in a televised speech to about 1.5 million domestic security and legal officials. The speech was also published on the Chinese Communist Party’s Commission for Political and Legal Affairs’ WeChat account on Saturday, according to Bloomberg.

“It’s normal for one person to buy a high-pressure cooker, a timer or even some gunpowder and steel ball bearings [separately], but it wouldn’t be normal if one person bought all that stuff together at once,” he said in the speech, explaining how big data could help link tip-off authorities to potential bomb makers.

In another example, Ma suggested big data could help streamline police duties, such as tracking a person who takes many bus trips in one day using electronic payment, which could alert police to a suspect pickpocket.

Alibaba has said it doesn’t share user data with third parties while also acknowledging it abides by Chinese law—which could require it to hand over data for, say, a criminal investigation.

“We believe harnessing big data analytics in applications like crime prevention and detection is an example of how data technology can play a part to protect the people and drive the society’s efficiency,” an Alibaba spokeswoman said Monday.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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