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China’s ‘Deadbeat Map’ App Exposes Social Credit of People Nearby

Chinese authorities are testing a new application that allows mobile phone users to check the social credit of people nearby. This is China’s latest effort to use technology to implement a social credit system for its 1.4 billion citizens. The beta version of the app, known as the “Deadbeat Map” released on China’s most popular mobile platform WeChat, was tested in Hebei Province last week. The user can use the program to detect, within 500 meters of range, those who do not pay their debts.

With a click on a person’s icon on the map, the app will display that person’s personal information, including name, part of the address, and the offense.

Beijing Youth Daily, an official newspaper in Beijing, has praised this practice. The author said that the innovative measures of using technology to expose the deadbeats accurately are worthy of praise. The article said that, although the court arbitration dealt with those found untrustworthy, they had many evasive methods to escape from the court. The social platform can subject them to ethical pressure from acquaintances.

Critics are concerned that citizens’ privacy is violated. Delia Lin, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne in Australia, told the Daily Telegraph that those unable to pay their debts due to poverty will find themselves “subjected to this kind of surveillance and this kind of public shaming.”

WeChat users can also report the untrustworthy people through this small program. If they find leads about the “deadbeat’s” property, they can report it to the app’s editor, and the information will be submitted to the back-end administrator and then to the court enforcement authorities.

China began to develop a social credit system in 2011, giving credit scores to individuals and companies. The scores are used to determine whether someone can use specific services such as a loan application or transportation services.

The New York based Human Rights Watch, however, sees this as part of a massive surveillance plan of the Chinese government. The practice of using technology to collect public information, such as the widespread use of facial recognition technology and the installation of tracking chips in student uniforms has also drawn public criticism.

Source: BBC Chinese, January 25, 2019