Big Brother big data

Big Data, Big Brother



ration imagine Big Brother
crowd involve impossible
rank surreal surveillance
scan track (2) reputation
phase sinology private (3)
test (2) credit (2) experiment
decent base (2) up and running
virtual morality corruption
design dystopia according to
score scandal transform
neglect store (2) supposedly
loan efficient consequence
gather prevent depending
fraud location speculate
reward sink (2) obedience
blind mass (2) occupy (2)
punish criticize collect (2)
abuse trust (2) remove (2)
vanish optimize insurance
via deny (2) public (2)
analog improve reflect (2)
chase behavior conformity
restrict challenge absolutism
merge worth (2) determine


Video: Big Data, Big Brother



It’s one of the most basic human needs: going to the bathroom. But can you imagine toilet paper being rationed? And you pay for it with your face.

That way, no one uses too much.

It sounds surreal, but it’s a reality in China — a reality for example, that makes it impossible to vanish in a crowd.

Private life?

Forget it. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Big Brother — the State — is watching all the time.

And these days, watching isn’t enough: movements are tracked and faces are scanned.

The Chinese state is testing a national reputation system for its citizens, known as the social-credit system.

Katya Levy, Sinologist: “The future of this system recalls dystopias, like 1984 or Gattaca where people are under complete surveillance.

The system is still in the testing phase at the moment. There are around forty experimental locations around China, and by 2020, the government plans to have the system up and running.”

For the government, it’s supposedly about improving society, more morality and less corruption.

This is how the social-credit system is designed to work: citizens are ranked according to a score, which goes up or down depending on their behavior.

If someone plays too many computer games, they’re neglecting their family and neglecting their health. Their score then goes down.

Health data, social behavior, finances, media use, all that is stored in a central data base.

And there are consequences if you score too low: your travel can be restricted, banks won’t give you loans and your child can be denied an education.

Companies also get a score. The government hopes this will prevent food scandals or fraud, for example.

The problem is who would ever publicaly challenge the system? Criticizing the government would make your score sink.

Sinologist Katya Levy says blind obedience is nothing new in China.

Katya Levy, Sinologist: “People don’t seem to fear that the state will abuse the data for control. There’s actually a great deal of trust in the central government. People think if the state collects and controls the data, it must be really good for society.”

But is the Chinese government really making its citizens morally better with its social credit system, by collecting their data, either rewarding or punishing their behavior?

And how far removed from such a system are countries outside of China? That’s something that occupies psychologist Gerhard Girkeva.

Gerhard Girkeva, Psychologist: “The big difference is that with us, it’s not the state that’s involved in the mass collection of data, and creation of a social credit value.

Instead, here it’s certain industries that are involved.”

Examples: on Facebook and Instagram, “likes” reflect popularity. Health insurance companies want to gather data from health apps, and offer bonus systems as incentives.

Car insurance companies can collect data via a black box, and advertised with rewards for decent driving behavior.

The analog and virtual worlds are increasingly merging, and that has consequences.

Gerhard Girkeva, Psychologist: “A social-credit system will transform people more than anything else in human history. People will chase after the best score.

They then might become more moral from the point of view of the Chinese government. They will become more conformist. And the system will become more efficient.

And now one can speculate how far this system — which I call ‘digital absolutism’ — how far a democracy can withstand such a system.”

A system geared towards improvement — and the optimization of mankind.

But how truly human would mankind be? And how worth living would life be if Big Brother and Big Data determined our everyday lives?


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1. In China surveillance and data collecting only apply to major issues, such as credit cards and serious crime. True or false?

2. Is it theoretically possible for a person to escape into a building and hide?

3. AI can recognize any individual in a crowded street. Is this right or wrong? How do they do this?

4. Does this system have a basis or similarities with fiction?

5. How does the social-credit system operate? What are some infractions? What are the penalties?

6. Ordinary Chinese citizens hate the system and want to destroy it. Is this correct or incorrect?

7. What is the posited purpose of the social credit system? What may be its ulterior motives? What are the consequences?

8. This dystopia can only happen in a totalitarian society; it can never happen in the US and other Western democracies. Yes or on?


A. I see CCTVs (closed circuit television) in my city. Yes or on?

B. What do people think about the internet, Google, Facebook, Instagram, social media, etc.?

C. Is it a hundred percent (100%), justified and good, in the middle, good and bad, bad and completely wrong to have monitoring and surveillance?

D. Is there popular culture surrounding Big Brother, Dystopia, 1984, Orwellian society, etc?

E. What might happen in the future?

F. Can or should people do anything about this?

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