The app is part of China’s vision for a social credit system by 2020 

Imagine walking down Oxford Street and being able to tell who was in debt

Amelia Heathman

Google knows a lot about you: what you look like, how you sound, your favourite place to get coffee. But all that information stays within Google, it isn’t handed over to the UK government, who can then use it to decide if you deserve a mortgage or can go on holiday.

In China, things work a little differently. The country is gearing up to launch a social credit system in 2020, giving all citizens an identity number that will be linked to a permanent record.

Like a financial score, everything from paying back loans to behaviour on public transport will be included.

Different cities and states have different versions of this at the moment, that will all come together in one big database, in order to keep track of everything everyone is doing.

One aspect of this social credit system is a new app in the northern province of Hebei. According to the state-run newspaper China Daily, the Hebei-based app will alert people if there are in 500 metres of someone in debt.

It’s like being on Oxford Street and being able to work out everyone around you who was in debt. According to the financial charity, the Money Charity, the average UK household debt (including mortgages) was £58,540, in June last year.

That’s a lot of notifications.

The app name translates to “map of deadbeat debtors”, and can be accessed via WeChat, China’s most popular instant-messaging platform. The idea is that it will allow people to “whistle-blow on debtors capable of paying their debts.”

The Hebei-based app is one part of this tracking system, but this social credit scoring is already having an impact in China. According to China Daily, more than 6,000 people who failed to pay their taxes on time or misbehaved on public transport were barred from taking planes or trains in and out of China between June 2018 and January 2019.

It’s not only this type of app that displays the Chinese future of social credit. One project, named Sesame Credit from the financial wing of the tech company Alibaba, teamed up with a matchmaking service Baihe to promote clients with good credit scores, as reported by the BBC.

Imagine being blocked from Tinder because you hadn’t paid your student loan off yet. It’s frightening, to say the least.

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