More than two thirds of Chinese take a positive view of social credit systems in their country

Team of scholars at Freie Universität Berlin surveyed 2,200 citizens/ Particularly high level of approval among older and better educated

No 198/2018 from Jul 23, 2018

About 80 percent of Chinese internet users take a positive view of the governmental and commercial social credit systems in their country. This is the result of a study on the public perception of such systems, which are intended to steer the behavior of citizens, companies, and organizations via reward and punishment mechanisms. The study, conducted under the direction of political scientist Genia Kostka at the Institute for Chinese Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and published in Berlin on Monday, is based on an online survey of more than 2,200 Chinese citizens, representative for Chinese internet users. According to the results, the older and more educated the respondents are and the higher their income, the higher their approval.

From 2020 onwards, the behavior of all citizens, companies, organizsations, and government agencies is to be assessed throughout China with a central social credit system, according to the Chinese government’s plan. The aim is to educate the Chinese society to "honest" behavior in the sense of the Communist Party - officially, the goal of the leadership is to achieve more "trustworthiness." Pilot projects are currently taking place in more than 40 Chinese cities: There, participation in the system is often mandatory. Particularly "trustworthy" citizens or companies are publicly honored in the test cities on so-called red lists, and the behavior of particulary "dishonest" citizens or companies is made public on black lists. There are also various commercial providers offering social credit systems on a voluntary basis. Depending on the system, the behavior of citizens is assessed, which results in advantages or disadvantages for the assessed individuals.

The survey now published by Freie Universität shows that the majority of those surveyed already takes part in a social credit system on a voluntary basis: 80 percent stated that they participate in a commercial social credit system. Seven percent said they were part of a pilot organized by local governments.

According to the study, Chinese residents living in cities benefit particularly from a good rating from a commercial social credit system: about 40 percent of the city dwellers surveyed stated that due to their high score they would not have to leave a deposit for sharing services widely used in Chinese cities, for example, for the use of bicycles and cars. City residents also benefited more frequently from rewards such as priority check-in treatment or better banking conditions, as the researchers found out. Accordingly, approval of social credit systems is higher in urban areas than in rural areas: in urban regions the approval rate is 82 percent, in rural areas 68 percent. A low rating does not have a significant effect on respondents’ approval rate of the rating system.

The massive invasion of privacy of Chinese citizens is often criticized, primarily in Western, but also in some Chinese media reports, according to the head of the study, Genia Kostka. However, the results of the study indicate that respondents see the social credit system less as a monitoring tool than as an instrument for improving the quality of life and closing institutional and regulatory gaps. Despite impressive transformation processes over the past 40 years, the legal system and the banking sector in China are underdeveloped. For example, there is no uniform credit information system and the enforcement of many laws is inadequate: "In a country where consumers must be concerned about toxic baby milk or contaminated strawberries or where internet fraudsters harass hundreds of thousands of people, the social credit system is perceived as a platform for reliable information. The criticism of the collection of personal data has thus receded into the background in China." Of course, when looking at the study results, one has to consider that respondents may have been very careful in their online evaluation of social credit systems, says Genia Kostka. But the positive opinion on the credit rating systems was also confirmed in personal interviews with Chinese citizens.

The study shows that social credit systems already influence the behavior of citizens today: 72 percent of those surveyed stated that they were influenced in their purchasing decisions by the social credit assessment of the company offering the products or services. According to the survey results, 18 percent have changed their posting behavior in social networks and removed contacts because dealing with these contacts could have potentially had a negative influence on their own assessment.

Methods: Online survey of 2,209 Chinese citizens through apps, mobile websites, and desktops between February and April 2018, "River Sampling" method: the survey was offered to more than 350,000 people, who could then actively decide whether to participate. The sample is representative for Chinese Internet users between 14 and 65 (based on the variables age, gender, and region).

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