In Brief:

  • China's social credit system is getting an upgrade thanks to blockchain.
  • Right now the system is siloed along provincial borders, meaning data is not transferred when someone moves from province-to-province.
  • While many perceive blockchain to be a tool for popular liberation, it's being used in China to increase state monitoring of individuals.

The public opinion monitoring arm of China’s social credit system is getting an upgrade that will allow it to share data across platforms and provinces using blockchain technology. 

According to a report from state-run media, “Remin Chain,” from Hangzhou’s Hyperchain Technology, will be integrated into the People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Center—the government apparatchik responsible for monitoring and analyzing every comment made online by China’s 800 million netizens. As the name implies, the center is run by People’s Daily, one of the mouthpieces of the Communist Party. 

China’s social credit system is a complicated leviathan. On one hand, it’s not exactly the Black Mirror-esque ‘Big Brother’ Orwellian system that everyone imagines. On the other hand it does attach a real ID to everyone’s online handle so that social media users with a history of “problematic” comments can be identified and dealt with. 

Up until now, there hasn’t been a nationwide “social credit” scoring system that ties online comments to a credit-bureau-like score that dictates the ability of people to access real financial credit. 

Instead, most of this system is run at the provincial-level, on separate platforms built by different tech companies. The provinces track everything from local infractions, parking tickets, and payment history on rent and debt—along with online comments—as a way of generating a score. In theory, scofflaws and political dissidents can hop from province to province for a fresh start. 

Remin Chain’s ‘Super ID’ system will curb that. The platform proposes to break down these silos and provide a national system for tracking social credit. The company also proposes to use this data to enhance the ability of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are often ignored by lenders, to build up trust and access credit at a lower rate.  

Enterprise software researchers Gartner believe using blockchain to build bridges across data silos will unlock a lot of value and increase overall data quality. But blockchain also has been a pretty effective tool for the Communist Party to increase the efficiency of its surveillance powers. Authorities in Beijing have provided startups with accelerator funding—and tech incumbents with subsidies—to develop technology to do just that.

While many see blockchain as a tool for mass liberation, in China it is enhancing the powers of the state to engage in “mass surveillance and social control.

This story was produced in collaboration with our friends at Forkast, a content platform focused on emerging technology at the intersection of business, economy, and politics, from Asia to the world.