Suzhou algorithmic social 'civility score' withdrawn after backlash

Occurred: September 2020

The Chinese city of Suzhou's launch of a 'civility code' early September 2020 to rank citizens’ civility and award or punish them accordingly backfired after local citizens accused it of being overbearing, manipulative, and an abuse of privacy.

Embedded in the 'Suzhou City Code' (蘇城碼) - a digital ID used to control residents’ movements during the COVID-19 pandemic - the new 'Suzhou App 2.0' comprised two sets of indexes: 'civility in traffic performance' and 'civility in voluntary work performance'. 

Citizens found to be jay-walking or drunk-driving would lose points, whereas those volunteering work would gain points. People with high scores would have more advantages in seeking employment, enrolling in schools, and accessing public and private services, and vice-versa.

However, citizens complained that the term 'civility' was too loosely defined and that the system could lead to abuses of power. Suzhou authorities suspended the system three days after its launch and said it would re-launch it after modifications had been made. It is not known to have re-launched.

An extension of its financial credit rating system, China's Social Credit System launched in 2014 and tracks and assesses the creditworthiness and trustworthiness of citizens, businesses, government bodies, and NGOs. 

It has been trialled in 'model cities' across China, including Suzhou, since December 2017.

Operator: Government of China
Developer: Government of China

Country: China

Sector: Govt - police; Govt - security

Purpose: Assess creditworthiness, trustworthiness

Technology: Behavioural monitoring; Deep learning; Neural network; Machine learning
Issue: Ethics/values; Fairness; Privacy

Transparency: Governance