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Dr. Gladys CHONG

B.A. (HKU), M.A. (University of Amsterdam), Ph.D. (University of Amsterdam)

Associate Professor, 人文及創作系

Funding:

  • Faculty Research Grant (HK 50,000)

Introduction

  • Globally, especially in Euro-American societies, concerns about dataveillance have grown exponentially as societies march in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (hereafter, 4IR) that emphasizes how ICBM technology (Internet of Things, Cloud, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence) restructures the global political economy, on the one hand; and on the other, how it transforms our everyday life. In China, one witnesses a growing sophistication of surveillance system that stretches its arm to partner with the corporate internet companies. The three market leaders—Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (known as the BAT) in internet industry have been gathering but also sharing massive amount of data with the state authorities. The trio’s success is partially made possible by the state policy restricting the access of global internet competitors like Google, Twitter and Facebook to China. Baidu and Tencent have been playing an important role in filtering and monitoring sensitive words and contents within China. The social credit system formulated by Sesame Credit is in alignment with the state’s long tradition of guiding, monitoring and rewarding good behaviours, bearing a mixture of disciplinary, education and punishment (de Kloet, Chong and Liu 2008; de Kloet, Landsberger and Chong 2011; Chong 2011; Chong, de Kloet and Zeng 2016; Chong 2017). Unlike its earlier communist style posters and banners or propagandistic style slogans, Sesame Credit has taken on a very different mechanism: it entices a subject to participate through “playfully” demonstrating how one gets rewarded in a game-like manner with rules, rewards and penalties. 

Abstract

  • This study aims to examine the ways in which Chinese youth experience security and governance in today’s China through a case study of Sesame Credit—a financial wing of Alibaba that uses its database of consumer information to compile “social credit” scores for each individual. Reports have indicated that by 2020 the authorities would have a national database recording each subject’s fiscal and government information, a sufficient set of data to rank subjects accordingly. Rather than concerns and anxiety as suggested in dataveillance (van Dijck 2014), China’s phenomenal technology growth is captured in a set of celebratory discourses on creativity/innovation, convenience, fastness, high-adaptability, and above all, security. This social credit system formulated by Sesame Credit is in alignment with the state’s long tradition of guiding, monitoring and rewarding good behaviours, while disciplining, punishing and correcting the undesirable behaviours. This tech-led evolvement of a long-held governmental practice of producing good model behaviours—with the assistance of internet corporates—is hardly discussed and so far little has examined 1/ how this social credit system selects and formulates elements that produce the discursive ideas of social and personal security; and 2/ how risks, threats and dangers are formulated so as to justify the necessity and the benefits of this social credit system? Youth is a politicized subject as its well-being projects the country’s hopes and dreams for the future: the state has vested interests in their well-being and the datafication of contemporary society provides (meta)data about its youth subjects. Besides, China as an authoritarian state often generate a lingering interest if youth, more exposed to the global culture, would challenge the existing political structure. Chinese youth’s positive reading of this social credit system as a securitization of daily life urges one to question 3/ how they are guided to internalize these intertwining discourses of security and threats; and, 4/ what their implications are. 

Interdisciplinary expertise:

  • The PI conducted interviews with youth users who use Alibaba’s services regularly to examine their user practices, so as to understand what contributes to their views on security, threats and risks.