For several years, Chinese cities have had a social credit or social score. It is a system of rating citizens according to their daily behavior. Armed with facial recognition in the streets, information from banks, insurance companies and other institutions, administrations give each person a score. Respect for the highway code, compatibility with politics, generosity, delicacy are all attitudes giving good or bad scores.
A good score confers public visibility of the person who becomes a sort of “civic hero of modern times” praised for managing his accounts, his attention to others, his mastery of himself … This hero can travel with preferential rates, benefits from dedicated and specialized officials … A bad score implies a ban on moving, investing, creating a company, or entering a cinema. The faces of bad payers are also displayed for all to see.
Why talk about this situation so far away in China? We are witnessing in France the emergence of a similar practice. And surprisingly, its development is even more worrying in our country than in China. Indeed this system is not framed, it is not organized by the administration but developed by the citizens themselves, by Internet companies and by a vast legal no man’s land for the most part.
The birth of a social credit in France
The hairdresser, the doctor, the taxi driver, the restaurant, how many times have we looked at the ratings given on the Internet and how many people contributed to giving these ratings? A new book? The shopping platform will promote the book’s rating, author’s rating, sender’s rating, and delivery man’s rating. It is a real social credit that is developed through the Internet in our daily lives.. And beyond the Internet, banks note the management of accounts (in order to grant real estate loans, consumer loans or cancellation of agios). Insurance rates the driving and vary the price of insurance, some commercial companies monitor our habits and rate them (by big data and artificial intelligence).
Other aspects and other means are used to promote this rating: the development of facial recognition in the streets, in Nice for example, makes it possible to extend surveillance to movements and behavior in public places. Taking browser history into account helps stimulate financial innovation and targeting (even if the data analyzed is not financial). In 2015, Emmanuel Macron, still minister, proposed the official establishment of a credit based on scoring for professionals : a company that manages its funds properly could be granted loans that others more precarious would be refused. This proposal had not shocked.
The reasons for this development
And for good reason, everyone sees the benefit of evaluating the individual before granting him a loan, renting a car or going to lunch in his restaurant: it is a guarantee of reliability, security, quality. We even see a virtuous slope in some cases: Uber drivers rediscover a sense of service to the extent that their rating depends on it.. The customer becomes king again. But a greater ethical risk arises from this development: that of reducing an individual’s behavior to single digits.
This restaurateur got a bad rating because his meal was poorly served that day. This hairdresser gets a bad mark because the brushing does not please his client, this driver obtains an automobile penalty because he committed an accident several years ago. The list can go on. And major disasters: restaurants, mechanics, hairdressers deserted for a few bad grades, bad managers without loans or insurance at good prices.
Let us be clear, the reduction of a person (individually or professionally) to a figure aggregating all the offenses listed automatically by machines, without the intervention of intelligence and human judgment, and therefore in an insidious and permanent manner, generates serious consequences.
Every time you note a person, every time you look at a score, you have to imagine the consequences that flow from it, and not just for the day or the week, but for the years to come, for the development of the business or person. Whenever we prioritize the security of the procedure over the individual we have in front of us, we dehumanize the social relationship.
The first criticism of social credit is this dehumanization of the social relationship. The second relates to individual freedom, the natural forgetfulness of events and the second chance. We can bet that this subject will be quickly tackled at the legal level in order to promote ethics in a society increasingly flirting with surveillance.