A new app bearing striking resemblance to the Chinese social credit system was presented during a press conference in Bologna on March 29th. Mayor Matteo Lepore, also the director of the city’s Digital Agenda for Bologna, discussed the “Smart Citizen Wallet” app to the press. The app is scheduled for introduction in Bologna this fall; an experimental version is already active in Rome.
The “Smart Citizen Wallet” is described as “similar to a supermarket points collection” and aims to reward people for “virtuous behavior,” such as recycling, using public transport, managing energy well, and not getting fined.
“Obviously no one will be forced to participate,” said Bugani. “Those who want to will be able to give consent when downloading and using the app.” The head of the Digital Agenda is, however, confident that many people will want to participate, adding: “we want to make them understand that they are not ‘losers,’ but that their behavior is rewarded.”
So far, the app is only aimed at rewarding good behavior. By improving their scores, citizens will gain points which they will be able to spend on benefits such as discounts and free cultural activities. The exact nature of the benefits is currently being defined.
The announcement has sparked outrage among European commentators. The French journalist Yannick Chatelain asked whether those “that don’t align with the ruling ideology” will first be “punished by withdrawal of benefits” before being marginalized.
“One doesn’t have to be a great visionary to predict what will happen: in my opinion, first there will be those that play along. But this compliance will be interpreted by the creators of this system—in an extremely reductionist manner—as proof of the will of some of the people. Those who refuse to participate, might be sorted out.”
Also Privacy Network, an Italian tech company specializing in digital privacy, issued a statement warning about the “legal, ethical, and social implications” of the app. “These practices, if poorly developed or used, can lead to serious limitations on, and violations of, citizens’ rights and freedoms,” the statement reads, “as well as discriminatory practices, which are also achieved through technological means, such as ‘social credit’ systems (or social scoring).”
The social credit system first made an entrance in China, where it’s been tested since 2014. The application of the system in China allows a glimpse into future developments of such systems in Europe, since it does not only reward “virtuous” behavior, as defined by the government, but also punishes unvirtuous behavior with travel restrictions or increased taxes.
Commentators have long warned against an introduction of a social credit score system in Europe.
David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.