Monday, October 24, 2016

China, Big Data and Social Scoring - Big Brother Is, In Fact, Watching You

This isn't entirely new news from The Independent today, but it is an update about the Chinese government implementing a sort of comprehensive Klout score to each and every citizen and in turn, limiting access rights to certain services (including travelling by train or going abroad), goods and even jobs. It's the stuff of fiction of the kind of society Orwell was writing about.
"A high-level policy document released in September listed the sanctions that could be imposed on any person or company deemed to have fallen short. The overriding principle: “If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.” A whole range of privileges would be denied, while people and companies breaking social trust would also be subject to expanded daily supervision and random inspections.
The ambition is to collect every scrap of information available online about China's companies and citizens in a single place – and then assign each of them a score based on their political, commercial, social and legal “credit.”"
I first picked up on this story last December and wrote about it on my blog here in some depth. I hadn't exactly forgotten about it, but had brushed it to one side. But Big Data and the algorithms that are interrogating Big Data are not going away anytime soon. And in that respect, we're all affected in some way or other. We are being measured and tracked and assumptions are being made about us all the time based on our home address, where we work, where we travel to, the products we buy, how much money we have and who we are connected to.

There are clearly some very useful aspects to scoring to make certain things in life and business easier - after all, we have extensive credit scoring in Europe and the US. But that's not a perfect science by any stretch of the imagination and is prone to fraud, abuse and misuse. This will likely increase. I don't think there is an easy answer to this. Some kind of scoring is inevitable when there is data available (and it's available in bucket loads). We are being scored all the time at some level - from targeted advertising to credit scores. Is it the price we have to pay to have a digital life?

1984 play image
On a side note, but not entirely unrelated, I recently went to see Orwell's 1984 in London at The Playhouse Theatre. It's very powerful and pertinent to today's society and I highly recommend it. It's on a limited run and closes on Saturday 29 October. Catch it while you still can. Or you could read the book as a refresher.