China’s police state algorithm flags citizens who own too many books… because now even that’s suspicious
08/23/2018 / By Vicki Batts / Comments
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China’s police state algorithm flags citizens who own too many books… because now even that’s suspicious

The communist Chinese government is using internet surveillance, AI and data collection to revolutionize their society — but not in a good way. Combined with a “social credit score,” Chinese citizens are now facing “digital totalitarianism,” as the government harnesses technological prowess and turns it into absolute power.

Currently, there are multiple initiatives to gather more data about people and corporations. This data is then used to inform decisions and policies, and the government devises systems of incentives and punishments to control people’s behavior. Even owning too many books may result in a person getting “flagged” by the government.

Technology that was once used to support the free sharing of information has been corrupted, and is now being used to control the masses and penalize so-called dissenters. But this isn’t just a problem in China: Recall the massive tech-sponsored censorship of conservative voices here in the United States. Across the board, technology is now being used for a sinister purpose: To quash freedom.

Authoritarianism aided by technology

As Technology Review explains, China has been seeking to make its citizens more “modern” and more “governable” since at least the 1980s, when the implications of information technology were first realized. The nation’s current leader, Xi Jinping, has turned to AI, surveillance and data collection to better understand (and control) his constituents. After becoming the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, Xi has demanded “cyber sovereignty” to bolster censorship efforts and take complete control of the nation’s internet.


Many of Xi’s aspirations involve increasing the country’s technological prowess; one of his most lofty goals is for China to become the world leader for artificial intelligence by 2030. At a meeting of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi reportedly stated that technology was vital to “the great goal of building a socialist and modernized nation.”

An official from the U.S. says that Xi used to receive daily briefings on “social disturbances” and “public concerns” via data scraped from social media.

But the most encompassing initiative to control the masses is the recently implemented social credit score system, by far. The goal of the system, which targets both individuals and businesses is the “construction of sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, and judicial credibility.” China hopes to have the credit system fully implemented by 2020. Local governments are already adopting smaller-scale social credit systems.

Blacklisted for what?

Under China’s ludicrous social credit score system, citizens are either rewarded or penalized for their actions. Those who end up on the “blacklist” may be barred from flying, from purchasing a home, or even from sending their kids to private school. Journalist Liu Hu says he was banned from flying because he was on a list of “untrustworthy” people. Chinese courts demanded that he apologize for a series of tweets he wrote — but ultimately, the courts decided his apology was “insincere.”

“I can’t buy property. My child can’t go to a private school,” Liu stated.

“You feel you’re being controlled by the list all the time,” he added.

Earlier this year, Xiao Qiang, a professor of communications at the University of California-Berkeley, called China’s data-driven approach to government “a digital totalitarian state.” Algorithms are being used in the province of Xinjiang, for instance, to predict who may be “likely” to commit future acts of violence or “defiance.”

What, precisely, will get you flagged is unknown, but it is believed that even owning too many books will put a target on your back. Is this going to be America’s future, too? With left-wing dogma taking over the world of tech, you never know.

See more stories about liberties we’re losing at

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