From Dataﬁcation to Data State: Making Sense of China’s Social Credit System and Its Implications
35 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2022
Date Written: July 15, 2021
We live in an age of dataﬁcation wherein nearly all aspects of our lives can be transformed into data and evaluated. The authors seek to make sense of the heightened dataﬁcation-enabled social control under China’s Social Credit System (SCS) by developing the concept of the data state. A “data state” is deﬁned as a governance model enabling the state to comprehensively monitor, evaluate, and control its subjects through dataﬁcation, leaving them little room to defend their autonomy. We identify the multiple functions of the SCS in its development up to 2020 and analyze its inherent defects, including the decontextualized evaluation of individuals and the semi-automated imposition of disproportionate punishment. We argue that, if the SCS were to fully integrate its functions and connect to other data-driven governance initiatives, it would eventually allow the data self, carefully groomed by the state, to dominate the bio-self and turn China into a data state. Whereas China’s SCS may be unique and not easily replicated elsewhere, understanding its intricacies helps to enable the citizens of democratic societies to guard against the relentless growth of dataﬁcation that may result in an invincible and irreversible ecosystem for the emergence of a data state.
Keywords: social credit system, data self, punishment, decontextualization, scoring, profiling
JEL Classification: K23, KE42, G28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation