The iphone is a gift for au­to­crats

The Diplo­mat (Tokyo)

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The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has long sought the means to keep closer tabs on its cit­i­zens, says Eu­gene K. Chow, and it now has the per­fect tool through which to do it: the smart­phone. Th­ese ubiq­ui­tous de­vices pro­vide an in­stant win­dow into peo­ple’s brows­ing his­tory, pur­chases and lo­ca­tion. Al­most 80% of all smart­phone own­ers in China, for ex­am­ple, use Wechat. Far more than just a mes­sag­ing app, it’s a hub through which peo­ple ac­cess the in­ter­net and other ser­vices; you can use it to pay for things, check a flight, get bank state­ments, make a doc­tor’s ap­point­ment or search for books. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has made no se­cret of its ef­forts to in­te­grate such data into its sur­veil­lance ap­pa­ra­tus. In­deed, it’s plan­ning to cre­ate a “so­cial credit” rat­ing sys­tem that will draw on ex­actly such data­bases, logging what in­di­vid­u­als buy and look at on the Web, and not­ing in­frac­tions such as not pay­ing bills or vi­o­lat­ing fam­ily-plan­ning rules. Those with low scores will have a harder time trav­el­ling, and will be barred from cer­tain priv­i­leges. The “tech­nolo­gies that once promised free­dom and open­ness” are help­ing China’s au­thor­i­tar­ian rulers build a “dig­i­tal panop­ti­con”.

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