China's Rating Plan or 'Black Mirror's' "Nosedive?"

A recent headline caught my attention out of shock, terror and familiarity. It appeared on the U.K. news website Wired. It read, “Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens.” The idea of rating people has been tossed around before and it is a lot closer to coming true than we think. China plans on making this system of rating mandatory to all of its 1.3 billion residents by the year 2020. The article on Wired detailed the factors that the rating system would be based on such as credit history, fulfillment capacity, personal characteristics, behavior and preference and interpersonal relationships. These ratings will make or break people’s ability to travel, buy a house, take out loans and even get a date/marriage partner. 


Sound familiar? Well if you saw Season 3 Episode 1 of the renowned Netflix show Black Mirror, called "Nosedive," you would remember that this whole scenario has already been done in a precautionary tale type of way. There are tons of overlapping ideas, such as how every encounter is taken into account to contribute to each person’s score. In the episode, there is also a huge focus on improving your score by being associated with other high-scored individuals. In China, the company that records and reports citizen’s credit, called “Sesame Credit,” already gave this warning to users saying that befriending someone who has a low score can have negative repercussions on their own score.

Why are Chinese citizens signing up for this madness even though it won’t be mandatory until 2020? The public reason and more obvious one would be that they are offered “special privileges.” There are also said to be rewards for hitting certain scores. For example, “If their score reaches 600, they can take out a Just Spend loan of up to 5,000 yuan (around £565) to use to shop online, as long as it's on an Alibaba site.” (Botsman)

Courtesy: Esquire

The scariest part of it all is that those implications that Black Mirror warned us about concerning rating systems might already be starting here in the United States and we haven't even noticed. For example, when parents use nannies, there is a slight Big Brother feeling because if he/she does a good job, they will be rated to reflect this, but they could do one thing wrong and be blacklisted from their profession. Even the commonly used business-rating app Yelp could be the brink of this effect. The rating system for restaurants can cause a lot of trouble for small businesses when one person’s bad experience might not be telling of the establishment as a whole. Uber ratings also rate their users as well as drivers, the effects of which could cause drivers to lose customers and customers to lose drivers. Lately, a lot of buzz has also been going on around Facebook and other social media sites collecting data from users and using it to make direct ads. The Fitbit device also collects data that can be used. Even amounts of likes, comments and followers on social media are used almost like measures of popularity and likableness. 

It’s all terrifying and a lot closer than we think. Here’s to this not happening, but if it does, I sure hope Black Mirror is wrong about what will happen. And to China, I’d just like to say that you should definitely watch "Nosedive" before furthering these plans.