Driving Dystopias: China Doesn't Sound Terribly Fun

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
driving dystopias china doesnt sound terribly fun

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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4 of 51 comments
  • Dingbat Dingbat on Jun 01, 2019

    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.

  • NN NN on Jun 03, 2019

    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.

    • HotPotato HotPotato on Jun 03, 2019

      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.

  • Bobbysirhan I fully expect to be reading about the last-of-the-line Challenger Demon 170 Redeye Widebody three years from now.
  • Dougjp Finally, luxury/strong performance in a compact size car. Unlike the Civic R, the market for this segment has predominantly automatics buyers. Yet year after year, it appears Acura can't make such a car. They did have a 10 speed with torque (Accord), which counters the thought that they can't make a torque capable automatic.Oh well, look elsewhere I guess.
  • Analoggrotto The real question, how many years or months after the end of production will this vehicle be completely eliminated from the street? Neon lights, yellow spoiler covers, idiotic stripes, brazzers license plate frames, obnoxious exhausts and all.
  • Mike1041 Why buy a German car in the first place? You will get to know the service manager real well and you will be denied claims because “we make no mistakes in the Fatherland”.
  • Art Vandelay This thing has had a longer send off than The Rolling Stones