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Will social rankings totally eliminate online privacy?

Fans of the wildly popular Netflix series Black Mirror are familiar with the social rating system at the center of season three’s premiere episode “Nosedive.” For those unfamiliar, the fictional app allows users to rate every social interaction throughout the day, from a coffee order with a barista to a conversation with a coworker.

The app generates a score out of 5, with users over 4.5 considered the top-tier and therefore entitled to rewards like luxury apartments and general preferential treatment. One of China’s most popular apps, Alipay, deployed a similar feature this year. The real-life system, called Zhima Credit (or Sesame Credit), places users on a scale between 350 and 950.

Some users call Alipay a “super app” because of the seemingly endless list of features ranging from mobile payments and social networking to parking and booking doctors’ appointments. The social credit system integrates these services to designate users on an overall social ranking scale and is similarly designed to incentivize socially-positive behaviors and likewise discourage negative behaviors.

Because the credit system collaborates the already popular app Alipay, nearly every aspect of a user’s digital life is accessible by the ranking system. Visits to restaurants, parking locations, expenses, even friendships are all trackable through the system. Though many in Ohio may think this is a far-off possibility, apps like Zhima Credit could grow in popularity and potentially be the next Facebook or Instagram.

Is privacy even possible?

So what happens to the idea of privacy with this level of data collection? It’s already difficult enough to maintain a semblance of personal privacy online now, much less with a ranking system that logs a person’s every purchase and interaction.

What if the app mistakenly characterizes a person’s behavior as negative and tanks their score? Is there an appeals process to fix an error that has this kind of impact?

The ranking isn’t just a tool for social media purposes; banks consider this score when approving a loan. Businesses can refuse service to users with low scores. If a score mistakenly decreases and a person can’t remove the offending actions, there could be real damage to a social, financial and personal life.

The impact right now

We aren’t yet living in the world of Black Mirrors fictional ranking system. But the advent of Zhima Credit shows that we may not be far from it. Your digital presence already affects your real life in any number of ways even without the widespread onset of a social ranking system.

Maintaining your reputation online is a crucial part of life in the modern, technologically-driven world. Even though the popular use of social rankings may feel far off, the reality of a digital lifestyle is present here and now. Keep track of what your digital presence includes and know your options for making sure it accurately reflects who you truly are.

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