Just three days before China’s record Singles Day sales this week, an alliance of online shopping platforms — including global giant Alibaba — implemented a credit system to punish untrustworthy sellers in eastern Zhejiang province.

The new alliance is set to work in conjunction with the provincial social ranking system, a localised version of the mandatory national Social Credit System (SCS) that is geared at monitoring the behaviour of China’s 1.4 billion citizens.

While the SCS is due to be fully operational nationwide by 2020, a wide array of social scoring systems are already being tested by local governments at provincial and city levels.

Forty-one cities and 31 provinces across China even have their own platforms stemming from the national SCS platform, officially titled: Credit China.

But it’s still unclear at this stage whether the localised social credit scores for citizens will be shared with or rolled into the national-level credit reporting platforms.

In Jinan, a city in eastern Shandong province, authorities have rolled out a credit scoring system to enforce responsible do

A Cavoodle puppy sits on a table.
PHOTO: Some penalised owners are required to pass an exam on dog-keeping regulations to get their pet back. (Flickr: XEgg)

g ownership.

After enforcing the system in January last year, recently released figures show some 1430 owners have been penalised, with more than 120 temporarily surrendering their beloved pooch after losing all their points, according to a CCTV news article on Jinan’s SCS website.

Just like an Australian driver’s licence, the pet demerit system gives every registered dog owner a licence with 12 points, and penalises owners for every infraction.

First-time offenders who walked their dog without a leash or tag, or didn’t clean up after their pet, or were reported for a disturbance, were docked three points.

Second-time offenders were fined 200 to 500 yuan ($40 to $100) and penalised six points, and those offending for a third time would lose all 12 points and be forced to surrender their dog, the provincial SCS website states.

Leave no dark corner

Meanwhile, pet owners who failed to renew their dog registration every year would also have their dog temporarily taken to a kennel until they passed an exam on dog-keeping regulations.

A China Daily report published this year said complaints about owners walking dogs without a leash dropped by 43

Leave no dark corner
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per cent as a result of the credit system, while state media Legal Daily commended the “effectiveness” of the system and argued for it to be rolled out across the country.

In eastern Zhejiang province — widely known as China’s e-commerce hub — a similar local credit scoring system was adopted last week to keep online vendors in check just days before the record sales on Singles Day.

According to Credit China, a dozen online shopping platforms last Thursday established a “dishonesty disciplinary alliance” to punish bad behaviour — such as selling fake goods — by blocking and deleting vendor accounts, and excluding users from promotional activities.

The alliance said it would also work with the Zhejiang Administration Bureau for Industry and Commerce to penalise negative behaviour by deducting individuals’ points.

‘The social credit system itself is an evolving concept’

SenseTime surveillance software identifying customers' movement patterns
PHOTO: Surveillance software identifying customers’ patterns at a department store in Beijing. (Reuters: Thomas Peter)

While the SCS is often described as a national system designed to engineer better individual behaviour by “awarding the trustworthy” and “punishing the disobedient”, the reality is that it’s not a single system.

Maya Wang, a senior researcher from Human Rights Watch China, said the “social credit system itself is an evolving concept”, though different aspects of the system have become slightly clearer over time.

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She added that at the national level, the SCS appeared to be a straight-up blacklisting system rather than a point-based demerit system.

“Then you have the local systems which are diverging from each other and from the national version,” she said.

“Each city or locale seems to take the idea of a social credit and point system and kind of run with it.”

Samantha Hoffman, an independent consultant on Chinese state security, said local governments and ministries had separate social credit implementing regulations, pilot programs, and credit reporting platforms based on the 2014-2020 Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System.

“There is not a standardised national-level credit system, but there are national-level credit reporting platforms,” she said.

“In theory, credit data from the various platforms [like Jinan’s pet reporting platform] should eventually be shared with other credit platforms [like the national Credit China platform].”

‘You could be sanctioned everywhere’

Ms Wang said that in general, there seemed to be a movement towards increasing regulations and laws to control people’s behaviour in China.

In Foshan, a city in central Guangdong Province with 400,000 shared bikes, authorities are having discussions about punishing inconsiderate bike riders through the local social credit system.

And in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai, authorities introduced a system that penalises doctors who fail to follow the regulations, such as misusing antibiotics, accepting bribery, and selling organs or blood.

But Ms Wang said the idea of awarding and deducting points for regulatory infractions wasn’t completely new.

“For the Social Credit System, what was new, and perhaps quite worrying, was the fact that if you do something the authorities consider to be a dishonest behaviour — however the authorities define it — you could be sanctioned everywhere and in kind of a completely unrelated sphere of life,” she said.

“The Government wants to engineer good behaviour in many aspects of life, whether or not it’s about pet ownership … or how to behave on a train or plane.”

A video taken by journalist James O’Malley on a Chinese high-speed train between Beijing and Shanghai last month showed what life might be like under what many netizens have described as a dystopian version of the future.

The clip showed an announcement warning passengers that if they travel without a ticket or behave disorderly in public areas, they will have their behaviour recorded in their “individual credit information system”.

A group of surveillance cameras on a pole.
PHOTO: Some CCTV cameras have facial recognition or infrared capabilities. (Supplied: Dahua Technologies)