Money. That’s all that this ‘modern’, ‘rich-stay-rich poor-get-poorer’ world believes in. Money is what gets you power. It gives you benefits, privileges, a reputation – so basically whatever you could want. Or does it?

The end of this moral-value-ignoring world may not be as distant as is believed. In a bold, relatively new app called Zhima Pay, an extremely influential Chinese company Alipay has finished what was started by FICO in the USA in 1956 – a successful 3-digit point credit system which governs your privilege.

Sounds like a bunch of technical jibber-jabber, doesn’t it? Well, let me break it down for you, from the beginning.

1956: A company called Fair, Issac and Co., better known today as FICO, tested out a revolutionary new idea – giving consumers a three-digit score which was based on their activities and behaviour, and would decide the likelihood of their getting an easy loan. The company’s original system was very rudimentary –  but it gave the world a glimpse of what was to come. The idea was to evaluate a score for a consumer’s life – helping an elderly person increases your score, while bribing an official reduces it – which would be used to determine how likely the person would be to return a loan.

Before FICO, the only way banks and lenders were able to judge people was by talking to their neighbours and acquaintances, which was very unreliable. Because of this, FICO is now widely used across America and people have remotely started to care about their scores. 

So where does Zhima Pay fit in? Fast forward 59 years, to 2015, when a growingly uneasy Communist Party of China gave permits to five companies to start their individual credit systems. Zhima Pay was Alipay’s undertaking regarding this permit.

In China, due to various reasons such as price surges and the fact that you can only use a credit card in the bank which you belong to, cash has increasingly become redundant, along with credit cards. People have started sticking to mobile e-wallets like Alipay and WeChat Pay, to the extent that you find people even tipping waiters and giving money to beggars through the apps. 

Apps like Alipay offer a large number of services – including cabs (Didi and Uber), restaurants, cycles for hire (Ofo), online purchase (Amazon) and much, much more. All of this has led to the fact that Alipay practically knows exactly what you do every single day.

The company has taken this as an advantage, and has based their sub-component Zhima Pay on this database. Zhima Pay is completely voluntary and gives you a ‘score’ between 350 and 950, based on your purchases, habits and even the scores of your friends! This has resulted in the fact that people have started to try to good deeds across China, as a low score deprives you of the most basic services while a high score ensures that you are treated as a first-class citizen. 

In today’s unethical world, this represents a significant but rather simple breakthrough – ‘if you’re good, then you’re powerful.’ But who defines the rubrics that judge an individual’s social worth? Should an arbitrary system of ranking that pulls you down for having friends who aren’t rich enough, or for being unfairly caught in criminal proceedings, be widely enforced by a gigantic private for-profit company? What happens when such a mechanism is inevitably exploited to manipulate citizens’ behaviour and actions in accordance with the government/company’s own desires? 

While the world sorely needs to be reminded of the fact that humanity comes before personal gain, we need to deliberate over the justness of a massive social ranking system to achieve that end.  In any case, I desperately hope that this acts as an effective, albeit dubious, lesson at the very least. 

~Yatharth Agarwal, Amity International School Noida, India


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