China’s Communist government is rolling out a plan to assign everyone in the country “citizenship scores.” According to the ACLU, “China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, ‘authoritarianism, gamified.’ ” In the system, everyone is measured by a score ranging from 350 to 950, and that score is linked to a national ID card. In addition to measuring your financial credit, it will also measure political compliance. Expressing the wrong opinion—or merely having friends who express the wrong opinion—will hurt your score. The higher your score, the more privileges the government will grant you.
This horrifying plan is to be administered by Alibaba and Tencent, companies that run much of China’s approved social networks and already have tremendous stores of data about what Chinese citizens are saying. When it comes to weaponizing oppression, even the Communist Chinese now see the value of private enterprise. That’s something to keep in mind when American politicians inevitably start agitating to enlist Apple or Google in launching some grand political initiative.
It’s worth noting that at least one big American tech company is already a party to this oppressive nightmare. Yahoo still owns a hefty chunk—worth about $23 billion—of Alibaba stock. As The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway noted in “The Media Kowtow” (Nov. 11, 2013), a feature on how American media are complicit in covering up Chinese human rights abuses, Yahoo was allowed to purchase a big chunk of Alibaba way back in 2006, less than a year after it voluntarily coughed up the identity of a democracy activist who was anonymously using a Yahoo email address, at the Chinese government’s request.
Journalist Shi Tao as a result was sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking Chinese Propaganda Department directives showing that Beijing was suppressing attempts to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Yahoo may hope you believe that approval to purchase what turned out to be an extremely lucrative pre-IPO stake in Alibaba was in no way related to its willingness to help the Chinese government imprison Shi Tao for the crime of wanting to live in a free country. But no one believes that.
Yahoo has plans to spin off their Alibaba investment into a profitable holding company so they can avoid billions in taxes, but so far the IRS has dragged its feet approving the deal. It would be nice if the American government—to say nothing of Yahoo’s investors and business partners—did something to demonstrate they care that the company is set to make billions profiting off Alibaba and its plans to reduce the financial prospects and political freedom of 1.3 billion people to a “citizen score” controlled by a murderous and oppressive regime.