Honest Shanghai: The App the Chinese Government Uses to Track "Honest" Citizens

It's a safe bet to say that you're familiar with George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984. If you need reminding, here's a quick synopsis: Airstrip One (what we know as Great Britain) is a province of Oceania, a super state. The world is in a constant state of war, and the all-pervading government monitors its citizens' every move...and thought. If a citizen should commit a "thought crime" - they are persecuted.

Though the novel is a work of fiction, the concept of the government monitoring your actions and ideas has been born a reality in China. Called "Honest Shanghai," this new app (currently voluntary) will rate Chinese citizens based on a trove of data collected by government agencies. What does this app mean for the world? Does it make you feel nervous? This is why you should constantly be expanding your cybersecurity education, the more you know, the better prepared you'll be if your government decides to start rating you through a mobile app.

Honest Shanghai: The Monitoring App

After you're dropped off at home by your Lyft driver or eating an expensive meal at a hot new restaurant, you take out your phone to rate your experience on an app. You give the experience so many stars, and depending on how great or disappointing the encounter was, you might leave a comment. It's fast, easy and often forgotten about once it's done. The ratings don't affect you, so you carry on living your life, waiting for the next experience to grade.

What if agencies, including the government, could give you a public rating? What if everywhere you went, people were able to pull up your name and see that you average 4 out of 10 stars? What if ratings were based on honesty and integrity? Are the ratings fairly given, or is it like most rating apps are, in which the only people who leave grades either really loved or loathed their experience? Would you be able to defend and alter your score, or is it "as is?"

For Chinese citizens, this could soon become their new reality. In a partnership with the software company Zhengxin Fangsheng, the Chinese government has released the Honest Shanghai app. The app, released to coincide with China's honesty week, is supposedly meant to reward Chinese citizens who exhibit good behavior. Users download the app and sign up with their national ID number. Using facial recognition, the app finds data that has been collected by the government and other agencies, including the user's place of work, and in as little as 24 hours, users are given a public credit score.

The goal of the app, according to Shanghai's Commission of Economy and Information deputy director Shao Zhiqing is to help "residents learn they'll be rewarded if they're honest. That will lead to a positive energy in society." What rewards can citizens with "very good" and "good" ratings expect to get? They'll earn discounts on airline tickets and other expensive items.

What happens to a user with a "bad" public score? They can expect it to be more difficult to find travel accommodations and getting loan approvals.

Critics of the app have already noted privacy concerns and point out that there is nothing in place to monitor the ethics of the government. History has shown that when government has all the power, society loses.

A system of checks and balances must be in order, and if people are willing to forgo their rights for an app download, there will be trouble. Learn more about cybersecurity protection when you visit CyberPolicy.

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