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Adam Minter

Why Big Brother Doesn’t Bother Most Chinese

For now at least, citizens are embracing social-credit systems that can establish greater trust between people and businesses. 

Chinese have gotten used to perpetual surveillance.

Chinese have gotten used to perpetual surveillance.

Photographer: Gilles Sabrie/Bloomberg

Who says government can’t innovate? In one Chinese city, the local court system recently launched a smartphone-based map that displays the location and identity of anyone within 500 meters who’s landed on a government creditworthiness blacklist. Worried the person seated next to you at Starbucks might not have paid a court-approved fine? The Deadbeat Map, as it’s known, provides pinpoint confirmation, the ability to share that information via social media and — if so inclined — a reporting function to notify the authorities.

It’s chilling, dystopian — and likely to be quite popular. Chinese have already embraced a whole range of private and government systems that gather, aggregate and distribute records of digital and offline behavior. Depicted outside of China as a creepy digital panopticon, this network of so-called social-credit systems is seen within China as a means to generate something the country sorely lacks: trust. For that, perpetual surveillance and the loss of privacy are a small price to pay.