‘Real-life Black Mirror’: Chinese city trials smartphone app that will rate residents’ behaviour – with bonuses for volunteering and penalties for running a red light
- Suzhou in east China introduced the scoring system that monitors people’s lives
- The new app rates citizens’ behaviour such as road manners and volunteering
- The city’s plan sparked outrage online while many called it ‘real-life Black Mirror’
- Officials claimed people had ‘certain misunderstandings’ about the trialling app
A city in China has sparked outrage after the authorities planned to score their citizens’ behaviour through a smartphone app that monitors people’s daily lives.
Officials in eastern Chinese city Suzhou introduced the rating system, loosely translated as the ‘Civility Code’, to encourage people to become the model citizens in the eye of the government, reported Chinese media.
Each resident starts with a score of 1,000, with rewards and plus-points for volunteering, minus for running a red light, according to the app.
The city’s new plan was widely criticised by Chinese social media users. Many called it ‘suffocating’ and ‘pointless’ while others compared it to the popular British TV series Black Mirror.
A city in China has sparked outrage after the authorities planned to score their citizens’ behaviour through a smartphone app that monitors people’s daily lives. The file picture taken on August 19 shows a Chinese man using his phone outside Beijing Railway Station
Each resident starts with a score of 1,000, with rewards and plus-points for volunteering, minus for running a red light, according to the app introduced by Suzhou officials. The picture shows a woman using her mobile phone outside a shopping mall in Beijing on August 18
It comes as China has faced widespread doubts and criticism over its use of artificial intelligence to monitor its citizens during the pandemic.
Tens of millions of Chinese residents were ordered to use a smartphone app that evaluates their health condition and tracks their travel history during the outbreak.
Millions of video cameras blanket streets from major cities to small towns. Censors monitor activity on the internet and social media. State-owned telecom carriers can trace where mobile phone customers go.
Suzhou’s new scoring system is composed of a ‘travelling index’, a ‘volunteering index’, as well as other indicators, reported Global Times.
The travelling index is linked to road manners and one’s traffic violation records, while the volunteer index is measured by a person’s involvement in volunteering work.
The system aims to generate a ‘personal portrait’ for each resident in a bid to promote good daily habits such as trash sorting, civilised dining manners, social courtesy and online behaviour, the authorities reportedly said in a statement.
Officials in Suzhou, east China, introduced the rating system, loosely translated as the ‘Civility Code’, to encourage people to become the model citizens in the eye of the government
During a brief trial last week, the smartphone app faced a fierce backlash from the public. Many web users slammed the system as ‘suffocating’ and ‘real-life Black Mirror’.
In one episode titled Nosedive, the popular British TV series portrayed a dystopian world where people rate each other after every interaction using their smartphones, affecting their social ranking.
One commenter wrote: ‘Oh my god, I feel like we are living in a real-life Black Mirror episode.’
Another replied: ‘Please, give the common people some space to survive and breathe.’
A third netizen said: ‘Big data will strip us all naked, and this will mark the beginning of our loss of freedom.’
China has faced widespread doubts and criticism over its use of artificial intelligence to monitor its citizens during the pandemic. A passenger is pictured scanning a QR code to get his green pass at a subway station in Wuhan on this file picture taken on April 1
A worker is pictured adjusting a surveillance camera outside the home of a journalist placed under quarantine after he had visited Wuhan in Beijing on May 3. Such security cameras are set up ‘purely for the needs of counter-epidemic works’, according to The Global Times
The officials responded to the public criticism on Sunday, telling reporters that the system is still in the trial phase and will be introduced again when it’s fully developed.
They also claimed that the public had ‘certain misunderstandings about the system and it will be used on a voluntary basis’, reported The Paper.
The government is said to have stopped testing the smartphone publicly app following the public backlash.
Security analyst Paul Bischoff, who has penned a report about the world’s most-monitored cities, believes that China has taken advantage of the health crisis to speed up the implementation of state surveillance.
Mr Bischoff told MailOnline: ‘This is the exact sort of surveillance creep that privacy advocates have warned against since contact tracing apps were first introduced.
‘There was always a risk that contact tracing apps would be used beyond their intended purpose, particularly for surveillance. It’s not hard to imagine authorities taking advantage of access to contact tracing data and using it to restrict freedom of movement and assembly.
‘Whether this actually happens or not, even having the capability to monitor users will cause them to act differently, creating a chilling effect on those freedoms.’
Officials have used various surveillance methods, including increasing location tracking via people’s phones and boosting the use of face recognition in public places, during the pandemic, according to Mr Bischoff.
China has also been building a mass surveillance network, which boasts hundreds of millions of street cameras.
A passenger holds up a green pass on their phone on a subway train in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. Green is the ‘health code’ that says a user is symptom-free and it’s required to board a subway, check into a hotel or just enter Wuhan
Security analyst Paul Bischoff, who has penned a report about the world’s most-monitored cities, believes that China has taken advantage of the health crisis to speed up the implementation of state surveillance. A man scans a QR code to show his health and travel status on a phone app before being allowed to enter a supermarket in Beijing on June 22
The surveillance network has been billed as the world’s most powerful facial-recognition system and aims to identify any of its 1.4 billion citizens within three seconds.
The country’s residents are due to be carefully watched by 626 million street monitors, or one camera for nearly every two people, as early as this year, according to a study.
China has five most-monitored cities in the world. Its most-surveilled city, Chongqing, is equipped with more than 2.5 million street cameras, or one for every six people.
Critics have cautioned over the scheme. Many have compared it to a dystopian system run by a fictional state leader, Big Brother, in George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.