On the surface, this reaction is understandable. Once the system is fully implemented, Chinese citizens will be given a social credit score based on their deeds. For example, failure to pay a court bill or playing loud music in public may cause a low score. This score can dictate what rights people have. Those on the “blacklist” are prevented from buying plane or train tickets, for instance, as well as working as civil servants or in certain industries.
The fact that Big Data and facial recognition technology will be applied for the purpose of monitoring citizens raises various human rights concerns. Not surprisingly, the scheme has been described as a “digital dictatorship” and a “dystopian nightmare straight out of Black Mirror”. But what these accounts lack is a sense of how the system is perceived from within China, which turns out to be rather complicated. My 16-month ethnographic study found that ordinary Chinese people perceive and accept the system differently – and most of them seem to welcome it.