Keep China’s Creepy “Sesame Credit” System Out of America

china-eyeRaja just wrote about Congress sneaking surveillance act CISA into a critical spending bill. Some cry Orwell, others gesture wildly at Huxley’s Brave New World unfolding on social media. What private details we don’t cough up voluntarily on Facebook are teased out of us by marketers and siphoned by the government, while a new wave of shout-down censorship is ruining debate and progress on important issues.

But there may be a new player in town. China has been rolling out a system colloquially known as “Sesame Credit”, in which citizens are scored not by their payment histories, but by their purchase histories, their political views, and their friends list. Chinese core participant TenCent just purchased the most played online game in the world and American favorite League of Legends. Watch this quick primer, then ask what might happen if China plans to use this platform to influence young American customers.

What might China want from our youth? Their disposal cash, for starters, and not just game profits. TenCent has so many players (800+ million) and revenue, it has its own currency that rivals some national economies. E-commerce giant AliBaba is also part of the Sesame group, and they want to sell me a PC power cable for $2.18 with free shipping while Office Max wants $15.

Kids tired of being ripped off by Radio Shack and GameStop might flock to these better deals, especially if there are in-game rewards for customer loyalty. Magic swords and custom costumes more important to these players than the price of gas and bread. League of Legends is a highly social game, so referral codes and and group discounts could take advantage of peer pressure.

The really insidious possibility, though, one new to the American gaming culture, is state sponsored censorship – by another nation. Chinese players are getting docked points for posting articles or tweeting opinions unpopular with the communist party. Latest reports say a full roll-out is expected by 2020, with an ever-expanding set of restrictions, rewards and punishments. If American players were also subject to penalties for, say, speaking against human rights incidents in China, the chilling effect on free expression would have global consequences as a misinformed generation grew into power.

These penalties could come in the form of removing discounts and jacking up AliBaba Express prices for you and for your friends. Your team could be blocked from participating in certain quests. Your digital pet might catch a disease. There are hundreds of ways to frustrate players whose circle of friends are all immersed in the same artificial world;  hundreds of little nudges to express yourself in accordance with the worldview of the Chinese government.

But it gets worse.

What if the Pentagon and the Heritage Foundation think this Sesame thing sounds like a great idea? If China calls its program a success, and its efforts seem to be altering public opinion, we can expect to see policy papers advancing the idea of a public Patriotism Score for American citizens.

Have you pledged your allegiance to our one nation under God today?

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Jay is Editor In Chief of The Agonist, veteran and technologist.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • New info to me; sounds like most credit schemes though, if one considers the punitive actions of US credit card issuers for irresponsible behavior. Buyer beware.
    Living debt free is not only possible, but proof one didn’t drink the koolaide.
    Capitalism is exploitative; pure and simple; again, buyer beware…

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