Approval ratings in China were somewhat smaller than in Kostka’s survey. Overall, between 41 and 57 percent of the participants had a “positive” or “very positive” opinion about the projects. There were also slight differences between the proposals: The most-liked one was proposal 2, involving immediate fines for traffic violations, and the least popular was proposal 1 where individuals are asked to reprimand fellow-citizens over non-payments. There was also significant opposition, particularly to proposal 1, which 31 percent rated negatively or very negatively, and to proposal 3 suggesting aggregate individual scores and personalized sanctions for a range of behaviors – it got a 23 percent “negative” or “very negative” response.
The results show the absence of either uniform approval or disapproval towards social credit systems among PRC university students: opinions are mixed. If we were to translate the opinions into school grades (very positive=A, very negative=F), the proposals would only get a C+ (“satisfactory”). Nevertheless, average agreement with such measures was much higher than among respondents in Germany, where none of the projects got more than 19 percent approval.
There are several possible explanations for why China’s citizens like or dislike these proposals. The survey findings mirrored some frequently stated arguments for and against building social credit profiles. On the positive side, there was the potential for increased trust among strangers; reduced crime and greater economic benefits. Cons included threats posed by hackers, privacy concerns, negative consequences of mistakes, rules in favor of institutions but not the people, government surveillance, and sharing data with private companies. Agreements to the positive effects were very similar across survey respondents of different national origins, with reduced crime seen as the biggest advantage.
However, the perceived risks reveal remarkable differences: in China, respondents reported the highest concerns over the risk of government surveillance and government institutions putting their own interests first. Interestingly, sharing huge amounts of data with private companies was seen as much less of a problem. This seems counterintuitive since in recent years, China’s official media has
frequently discussed data privacy with a focus on the protection of individuals from overreach by private companies.2 Overreach on the part of the government is rarely if ever addressed in China’s official media coverage. Therefore, one might assume that PRC students would also be primarily concerned about surveillance and abuse of data by private entities rather than government surveillance, but this is not the case.