By on May 31, 2019

With China having become the world’s largest automotive market by individual sales, it’s worth keeping tabs on it for burgeoning driving trends. While that’s predominantly revolved around electric vehicles, the People’s Republic also has pretty strict driving rules backed by some of the tightest monitoring of a civilian population imaginable. China is setting up a vast surveillance system that tracks every single one of its 1.4 billion citizens and is adapting it for use in its new “social credit system,” which sounds like the most Orwellian thing in existence.

The system is intended to publicly shame criminals, debtors, jaywalkers, and those with “controversial” political views while monitoring their every move but it’s also doing a fine job of making life harder for drivers. 

According to the BBC, one motorist in China’s eastern Shandong province received a traffic fine after camera captured him scratching his face and the associated artificial intelligence program assumed he was using his cell phone. The man, one Mr. Liu, claimed he had immediately received a notification from the government that he had been fined 50 yuan (around $7 USD) for using a phone while driving and would have two points added to his license. Attached was a photo of Liu scratching his face, which he promptly reposted to social media.

“I often see people online exposed for driving and touching [others’] legs,” he explained via Sina Weibo. “But this morning, for touching my face, I was also snapped ‘breaking the rules!'”

While we’re not sure how touching other people’s legs is a crime, so long as you get permission, using your cellphone while operating a motor vehicle is a minor taboo in most parts of the world. However, the old no-harm-no-foul adage didn’t play for Liu because he also claimed that nobody within the government was willing to help him resolve an issue that had added points to his license and was endangering his social credit score — which could result in him being barred from specific goods and services if it slips too low.

From the BBC:

The Global Times newspaper says that the city’s traffic authority have now cancelled his ticket, and told him that “the traffic surveillance system automatically identifies a driver’s motion and then takes a photo”, which is why his face-scratching had been mistaken for him taking a phone call.

While many online are amused by his case joking that the positioning of his hand signalled [sic] he certainly appeared to be on an “invisible” phone, some are also voicing their concerns about the level of surveillance placed on them.

“This is quite embarrassing,” says one, “that monitored people have no privacy.”

“Chinese people’s privacy – is that not an important issue?” another asks.

There are more than 170 million surveillance cameras and the country has plans to install a further 400 million by 2020.

The social credit system will take full effect in 2020. Meanwhile, tracking software has already been affixed to phones, with the Chinese government mandating that certain ethnic minorities within the nation download an app that allows it to monitor and access their photos, videos, phone calls, and other files. However, even the average citizen can expect to have their shopping behaviors monitored and their internet browsing curtailed today.

China has also called upon manufacturers in to furnish the government with reports that include where electric vehicles are at any given moment. As of 2018, over 200 automakers working inside China — including big names like Tesla, NIO, Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, and Mitsubishi — have already agreed to transmit positional information and other forms of data to government-backed civilian monitoring centers.

Chinese officials have said that the data is being used exclusively for analytics that could help promote public safety and infrastructure planning while helping to avoid things like insurance or subsidy fraud. Automakers have said they’re simply complying with regional laws. You know, just following orders.

[Image: Destinyweddingstudio/Shutterstock; Sina Weibo]

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51 Comments on “Driving Dystopias: China Doesn’t Sound Terribly Fun...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    It’s a scratch, not a pick!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well this IS the country that brought you humanitarian achievements like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    I’ve seen these cameras at work in Chinese cities. They snap photos of every driver using bright flash bulbs at night.

    The ultimate goal of the Chinese state is total control and surveillance of its people to ensure the continued stability and security of the Chinese Communist Party. And they alone, in the entire world, have the means and the will to put this plan into action.

    I seriously believe China is what the future of much of the world will look like. It’s not just that they can do these things, it’s that their own population is so brainwashed that they support them doing these things. I’ve had multiple Chinese say the same thing to me: “we have 1.4 billion people, we can’t have everyone having different ideas, it would be chaos. The government needs to lead us all on the same path.” It’s like they’re reading it from a card. I was over there when Trump won the election. Multiple Chinese people were amused at the Americans obsessed with the election results. Two said to me, “why do you guys care so much? Our leaders just pick themselves!”

    It’s not a question of just coming up with the right argument to change the course of history (like the American revolution), or arming the right people (like so many other revolutions). China can monitor people so closely that they can stomp out any such nascent movements in their infancy. And when the social credit system is in full effect, no one is going to associate with social or political pariahs for fear of damaging their own score, and their ability to get jobs, travel, or get their kids into school. It will be like Amish shunning on a massive scale.

    “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” As true today as it was in 1984.

    • 0 avatar

      It is said that the reason euro communism fell is because the microchip hadn’t come into wide use….we may see if that is true in China.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’d say the main reason “euro communism” failed is that the only countries that “tried” it did so with a Russian gun pointed at their heads. When the Russians dropped the gun, they ran from “communism” as fast as they could.

        Lord knows lack of surveillance wasn’t a problem in the Soviet Union. A better system of cameras wouldn’t have saved it; a move towards the kind of centrally controlled capitalism that China has might have, though.

        Western Europe, meanwhile, never wanted communism, and was ready to go to war to resist it – with nukes, if necessary.

        • 0 avatar

          Chinese communism will be finished for the same reasons why Russian version did not last that long – it will not be able to compete with USA because of exodus of capital to safe places, debt crisis and following economic collapse. No matter what Chinese nationals say about greatness of China on the net the thing they care most are money and even more money.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            There’s no way you could possibly call China “communist” as it stands, unless you assume all authoritarian governments are communist, and that’s a bunk assumption.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Communism is a marketing strategy for authoritarianism. Just like socialism. Fascism is just socialism that has been defeated militarily instead of having failed on its own.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Back when, the USA was meaningfully different, in a freer direction, than the Soviet Union. Now it no longer is, wrt China. So the US as some sort of global corrector, is by now just a quaint memory, no matter how hard the propaganda apparatus tries to keep up pretenses.

            OTOH, the Muzzies will walk all over the entire Eurasia, by current trends. Even absent “one child,” the same official graft by a privileged cadre of Party Members/banksters which has rendered child rearing more work than it’s worth in the West and Japan, is doing the same in China.

            Give them a generation or two, and they’ll be like nationalistic Japanese oldsters, cackling about rebuilding their military to former glory, despite the only available solders being the exact same guys who fought in WW2….. While the Muzzies will just keep doing what they have always done: Walk all over and subsume the game-of-life inferiors they encounter on their way.

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      ” I’ve had multiple Chinese say the same thing to me:”

      Of course they said that. Can you imagine what would happen if they got caught saying something off-script?

      It would be interesting to hear what they really think, unshackled from constant fear of reprisal.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        I think it’s a cultural preference for order and stability over personal freedom that’s ingrained in them from childhood, and going back thousands of years.

    • 0 avatar
      ravenuer

      ……”we can’t have everyone having different ideas, it would be chaos…..”.
      Gee, sounds like US these days!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Citizen surveillance is the same throughout the world, the idea is just “wrapped” differently in countries who find the lack of privacy distasteful. As long as you drive or use a connected device you’re fair game. People pay a lot of lip service to the concept of privacy, but it just no longer exists anywhere. Behave or beware

    • 0 avatar
      4drSedan

      I just can’t let that comment go. Citizen surveillance is definitely not the same throughout the world. I am allowed to publicly make disparaging remarks about my government (I’m a Yank) and associate with a host of groups who openly admit their goals are to change our current form of government. Try that in China, Cuba, Russia. Ask the music group Pussy Riot what happens when you get publicly anti-Putin. Oh, that’s right, you can’t ask them because they’ve recently disappeared without a trace. Don’t ever lump my country in with these murderous totalitarian thug-ocracies.

      • 0 avatar

        ” I am allowed to publicly make disparaging remarks about my government (I’m a Yank) …Try that in China, Cuba, Russia.”

        No problem – you can criticize US Government in this countries as much as you want.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        4drSedan, you misunderstood my comment, just because we are being observed through our many connected devices doesn’t give a government the right to act on those observations, today anyway. Just don’t kid yourself in believing that information on each one of us isn’t being gathered mostly, I would say for marketing purposes, but all that could change in an instant. Just be aware

    • 0 avatar

      Do you mean IRS? Or FBI? Or CIA? No it is not possible! They cannot spy on us. And what AG is planning to do?

    • 0 avatar
      sfredst

      “Citizen surveillance is the same throughout the world” – You are lying to yourself, no need to have anyone else do it.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    “Our responsibility (and) what we promise is we don’t do anything bad — we don’t do bad things.”

    “Here, let me say this as clear as possible, Huawei has not and will never plant backdoors. And we will never allow anyone to do so in our equipment. We take this responsibility very seriously.”

    Guo Ping, Huawei Rotating Chairman at the 2019 Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, Spain Feb 2019

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has recently said that not all cultures are equal, and he has been roundly criticized for being everything from naive to racist.

    This story is just one proof that he is correct.

    • 0 avatar

      SCE: interesting you mention Rep. King. He has been a guest on a couple of radio shows I produce at times when he has been taken to task for statements made on this and other issues. When I heard him explain in more detail what he was saying – especially compared to what was published – I came away with more distrust of ANY media reporting. Could he have been lying? Sure! Did he have a reason to lie to the hosts of the two programs he appeared on? No! Yeah, I know, I’m being naive.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      You’re confusing culture with politics, SCE. If Chinese culture caused totalitarianism in the PRC, then how does Taiwan – which is VERY much a Chinese culture – have a functioning democracy?

      If “European” culture produces free countries, then why the hell did Russia first break its’ back to get rid of one dictatorship, only to trade it for another?

      I don’t know if King is naive or racist, but he’s certainly full of dogs**t. Don’t drink his Kool-Aid.

      • 0 avatar
        Lockstops

        Taiwan and China have pretty different cultures.

        Russia definitely has a _completely_ different culture compared to ‘actual Europe’. Some eastern European countries are at least partially slavic etc. in their culture too, which is different than Germanic, Scandinavian etc. cultures.

      • 0 avatar
        sfredst

        Chinese culture allowed totalitarianism in the PRC, it did not cause it. “If “European” culture produces free countries” – he did not make such a claim, and Europe has quite a few distinct cultures. If you think the French, Italians, Spanish, Germans, Austrians, Danish, etc. share the same culture, you are very mistaken. You consider Russia to be European? It is not. You display a strange mix of ideas….

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Coming from the BBC and a country that has more CCTV than supposedly anywhere else, and average speed cameras for naughty drivers on unlikely stretches of road, this strikes me as exculpatory commentary for life in that blighted land. “Look, it may be bad here, but over there it’s even worse!” Just a matter of degree.

    In the US there are private companies scanning plates in parking lots, the NSA listening in on everything, constant unknown bleeds from apps in the middle of the night to various unexpected locations you didn’t sign up for when accepting cookies thus letting someone or other gather data on you, etc. etc. Unseen skulduggery affectng everyone’s privacy. So I regard this Chinese stuff as just another take on nobody having the right to be private any more. If it’s more upfront surveillance than the capitalist private outsource way, which is stealthy, the end result isn’t much different. And if you believe it is there’ll probably be a big surprise in store for you one day soon. Cars report on you to home base and those new cameras aimed at your face to see if you’re dozing off, where does that feed end up? Amazon Alexa and Google “assistant” can recognize your voice in a “crowd”. It’s a surveillance society no matter where you go.

    But hey, this is America, so let’s fool ourselves while having a go at dem commies. About correct at a comic book level.

    • 0 avatar
      Robotdawn

      I think it’s very different. It (mostly) isn’t the State gathering all this information, it’s different companies. Most of these companies aren’t using that information except to monetize it. They aren’t going to give that information to anyone, including the government, without a fight, or a big check, because it’s literally how they make money.
      Now, do I think we could get a government that would decide it’s in our best interest to aggregate all this information “for the public good”. Yes, yes I do. Vote appropriately.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Not only this, but Apple/Google/Amazon aren’t going to throw you into a gulag after scanning your license plate. The Chinese government is currently forcibly holding over 1 million people in “re-education” camps. The rest of the people over there aren’t really aware of it, because their news media is so tightly controlled.

        • 0 avatar
          AtoB

          “The Chinese government is currently forcibly holding over 1 million people in “re-education” camps.”

          Meanwhile:

          According to a U.S. Department of Justice report published in 2006, over 7.2 million people were at that time in prison, on probation, or on parole (released from prison with restrictions). That means roughly 1 in every 32 adult Americans are under some sort of criminal justice system control.[13][14]

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_incarceration_rate

          • 0 avatar
            TMA1

            Prisons and re-education/prison camps are not the same thing. People in those camps go to prison just for knowing the wrong people, reading the wrong things, or just attending religious services.

            No one in the US gets disappeared because they received a phone call from overseas. Try educating yourself:

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/China_hidden_camps

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        To what degree with all their big money crony influence, are these companies/corporations de facto are our government?

    • 0 avatar

      If you spent some time in Gulag I think you would have different opinion about the lack of privacy Eastern style. Just sitting in London and blah blah about these matters it is easy.

    • 0 avatar
      sfredst

      There is a big difference in watching people and having the power to force them to your will. For this reason we should always resist allowing people in government to have power.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    “As of 2018, over 200 automakers working inside China — including big names like Tesla, NIO, Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, and Mitsubishi — have already agreed to transmit positional information and other forms of data to government-backed civilian monitoring centers.”

    When will people realize that capitalist, for profit corporations are nothing more than 5th columnists in the defense of freedom?

    With Globalization, now more than ever the phrase “the capitalist would sell the rope with which they are to be hanged” has meaning.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      If you as a Chinese citizen were to “just say no” to the government which is what you seem to be implying should occur, what do you think the result would be?

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’d say it depends on how many of them say no.

        There’s a reason why China is so hell-bent on economic expansion – it knows that a) revolution is possible (it happened there not so very long ago), and b) they have the example of the Soviet Union, which failed because it was an authoritarian communist state where everyone was but the elite was dead broke. They were probably headed down the same road before Deng Xiaoping took over.

        Basically, I think they’re trying to mollify their citizens into ignoring their lack of political freedom by feeding them consumer goods. They may not have freedom, but by God, they’ve got plenty of goodies. Same thing happened in Russia, if you think about it.

        The minute the gravy train ends, hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens could “just say no.”

        • 0 avatar
          EGSE

          “The minute the gravy train ends, hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens could “just say no.”

          We’re on the same page. Tightening the surveillance noose is a preemptive measure. They learned from Tienanmen Square in 1989 where an estimated million plus did “just say no”. There’s a firefighter saying “every large fire starts as a small fire”. The Tienanmen movement started with a few activist sparks. Ubiquitous surveillance finds those sparks and cowers the masses. Instilling fear by “disappearing” sparks that aren’t cowered is useful to that goal. They don’t want another Tank Man as a catalyst for others near the tipping point.

          Getting back to the original argument; in the context of the present reality, thinking that a company can buck the system and survive is delusional. I don’t like it but Realpolitik doesn’t care what I think.

        • 0 avatar
          ttacgreg

          It has been apparent to me for decades that there are plenty of people here in the USA for whom material affluence is their definition of “freedom” as opposed to my definition which is a government of laws structured to protect personal freedoms from arbitrary use of power by the government.
          The Bill of Rights and the intention behind it is sacred to me. Written into the foundation of our government are guarantees of freedoms.
          The past few decades of conceding power to the executive, particularly the POTUS is very dangerous.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            “The past few decades of conceding power to the executive, particularly the POTUS is very dangerous.”

            Yep, and as long as “the economy’s good,” people are happy to do it.

            I’d say the difference is that the current POTUS is FAR more likely to want all that power and use it for the sole purpose of empowering HIMSELF than anyone since Nixon.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Understand you’re talking about a sitting President who actually said he wants to be {resident for life and also that anyone who doesn’t applaud everything he says / does, should be charged with treason .

            That being said, I believe he’ll get re elected in 2020 .

            Reality doesn’t change just because you can’t stomach it .

            -Nate

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    And you bet they will turn it off for the higher up government officials.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    To hell with China (although it would seem they’re already there). God bless America.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Goddamned commies ~ always trying to take your bicycle away…..

    -Nate

  • avatar
    redgolf

    Liu is a riar, he was using an old style flip phone, small but still recognizable ! Have a rice day! ;-)

  • avatar
    Dingbat

    Way to deal with your dissonance. Always amusing to see condescending and racist remarks about a sinister foreign country while ignoring Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing revelations.

    The next time you guys board a plane, or cross a border (assuming you can afford to travel), or even apply for a loan, I’m sure you will collectively appreciate UR FREEHDUMS.

    All while your financial and monopoly and military overlords wage downward class warfare and strip you of whatever dignity you have left. Yet you fall for idiot distractions and scapegoat some irrelevant target.

  • avatar
    NN

    Appropriate conversation on this 30th anniversary of Tiananmen. And a lot of well educated comments and viewpoints, I might add. I lived in China 2002-2003 and have gone back many times since (I’m American). The changes since then have been incredible, from poor 3rd world to middle class and plenty of flashes of exuberant wealth, and some of the world’s best infrastructure. Very impressive. On the downside, as the internet has increased as part of our daily lives since that time, the CCCP has used digital tools to increase the isolation of their people and now surveillance. Like slowly boiling a lobster, truly 1984.

    Ironically, I feel these same efforts by the Chinese government to ultimately control everything keep their country from achieving what their hardworking and naturally entrepreneurial people could do, should they be truly free to pursue to their highest capabilities. If the Chinese were free people, then the American dynasty would really be threatened. As it is, most people in the world will happily consume Chinese labor, but not true Chinese innovative companies/products due to lack of trust (see Huawei). The American companies in social media and hardware need to work hard here to respect how they treat data , they could obviously be a lot better.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      On principle, Google refused for years to do the kind of data sharing the Chinese government wanted, and was largely frozen out of China. Yahoo, teetering on the edge of oblivion in the West, had no such scruples, and today enjoys big business from China. Or so I am told by friends in the industry.


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