A report by Ant Financial’s much-maligned social credit system (SCS), Sesame Credit, indicates that 96% of Chinese users born between 1990-1994, and 94% of those born between 1995-1999 have chosen to opt in to the social credit system.
Sesame Credit, which has taken serious heat in the non-Chinese media for its potential to be a giant Orwellian nightmare, can currently be enabled through Ant Financial’s Alipay app on an opt-in basis.
Why it matters
There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about social credit in China.
For one thing, though non-Chinese media tends to refer to China’s social credit system as if it’s a single program, it isn’t. China has dozens of social credit systems. The national government intends to unveil its own system in 2020, but dozens of other systems are in use or under development by regional governments and the private sector.
Sesame Credit is the most visible and widely-adopted of the private sector programs, so the way the public is responding it to it gives us insight into how smoothly future social credit systems may integrate into society, and how well they’ll be received by the population at large. If that 96% opt-in rate is anywhere near accurate, they will be very well received indeed.
Research by Genia Kostka at the Free University of Berlin – which covered internet-connected users across a wide range of Chinese localities and age groups – confirms that social credit system coverage rates are astoundingly high:
- Fully four out of five respondents (80%) are using at least one commercial SCS.
- Among commercial SCSs, Sesame Credit is the most popular system with 58% of respondents reporting membership, followed by Tencent Credit (31%) respectively, while some respondents use both systems (19%).
- 16% of all respondents do not take part in any SCS.
- A relatively small number of people (8%) indicated not knowing whether they were taking part in a SCS or not.
Approval ratings are also through the roof:
- Overall, respondents report a high degree of approval of SCSs, with 80% of respondents either somewhat approving or strongly approving SCSs.
- Only 19% of respondents perceive the SCS in value neutral terms (neither disapprove nor approve).
- Just 1% reported either strong or somewhat disapproval.
In terms of those most likely to approve:
- … [R]espondents who approve of SCSs tend to be older, higher-income, male, more highly-educated, and living in an urban area.
- Among these significant socio-demographic factors, the effect of education is highest, followed by income and urban/rural location.
Why the lack of suspicion?
Branding in Asia does an excellent objective breakdown on the perceived benefits of SCS:
… [Currently,] the [Sesame Credit] score resembles a loyalty program, like collecting air miles. Ant Financial cooperates with many external partners that reward customers who have high scores and offer them many advantages.
For example, my grandma with her high score does not have to pay deposits for hotel bookings, car rentals or bike rentals. She is directed to the fast lane at airport security, and her visa application for Luxembourg or Singapore gets priority treatment. Quite a few singles also post their Sesame Credit score on Baihe, Alibaba’s online dating service, in the hope of increasing their chances.
Kosta’s report digs into a host of other surprising finds in terms of Chinese public attitudes towards SCS – give it a read.
- Results of a December 2018 survey by CBN Data. The 1532 survey respondents were between the ages of 19 and 48. The survey was conducted in cooperation with Sesame Credit, with the objective of exploring how credit-driven consumption helps young markets pursue leisure.
- ResearchGate: China’s Social Credit Systems and Public Opinions: Explaining High Levels of Approval