Online Information Review
Datafication, dataveillance, and the social credit system as China’s new normal
Online Information Review, Ahead of Print.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to explore how China uses a social credit system as part of its “data-driven authoritarianism” policy; and second, to investigate how datafication, which is a method to legitimize data collection, and dataveillance, which is continuous surveillance through the use of data, offer the Chinese state a legitimate method of monitoring, surveilling and controlling citizens, businesses and society. Taken together, China’s social credit system is analyzed as an integrated tool for datafication, dataveillance and data-driven authoritarianism. Design/methodology/approach This study combines the personal narratives of 22 Chinese citizens with policy analyses, online discussions and media reports. The stories were collected using a scenario-based story completion method to understand the participants’ perceptions of the recently introduced social credit system in China. Findings China’s new social credit system, which turns both online and offline behaviors into a credit score through smartphone apps, creates a “new normal” way of life for Chinese citizens. This data-driven authoritarianism uses data and technology to enhance citizen surveillance. Interactions between individuals, technologies and information emerge from understanding the system as one that provides social goods, using technologies, and raising concerns of privacy, security and collectivity. An integrated critical perspective that incorporates the concepts of datafication and dataveillance enhances a general understanding of how data-driven authoritarianism develops through the social credit system. Originality/value This study builds upon an ongoing debate and an emerging body of literature on datafication, dataveillance and digital sociology while filling empirical gaps in the study of the global South. The Chinese social credit system has growing recognition and importance as both a governing tool and a part of everyday datafication and dataveillance processes. Thus, these phenomena necessitate discussion of its consequences for, and applications by, the Chinese state and businesses, as well as affected individuals’ efforts to adapt to the system.