Italy’s seventh-largest city, Bologna, plans to introduce a “social credit” system to reward citizens’ good behavior, but critics warn of a potential dystopian scenario such as the one seen with China’s controversial social credit system.
The seat of the Emilia-Romagna region is developing an application that would reward those who demonstrate “desirable behavior” with so-called social credits. These behaviors coincide with general moral norms: citizens can earn points, for example, by following traffic rules, through optimal energy consumption or selective waste collection.
The name of the application is “Smart Citizen Wallet” and was unveiled at a press conference in Bologna on March 29 with the participation of Mayor Matteo Lepore. Massimo Bugani, director of the city’s “Digital Agenda,” also spoke at the event.
According to Bugani, the application can be seen as an investment towards the digital renewal of Bologna. The application is like Bologna getting a “new sewer system,” Bugani claimed, adding that more and more services will become digital in Italy in the coming years.
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The local newspaper, Corriere di Bologna, compared the app to well-known point-collecting booklets from shopping malls. The application has already been activated in Rome although only as a trial. The application may be introduced live in Bologna this autumn.
Although there are still only rewards and no penalties for using the app, the threat of social credit systems has already been addressed by a group of authors in Italy. In 2016, a book entitled “Anime Elettriche” (Electronic Souls) was published, which dealt with a social credit system. In this dystopian book, the authors present a society in which access to consumption and goods is dependent on the amount of points collected by an individual.
Recognizing concerns about the credit system, an Italian research group, the Privacy Network, pointed out that if one uses such a complex system incorrectly, it can lead to a number of problems, such as serious restrictions that could infringe on the rights and freedoms of citizens, not to mention the discrimination that the mere operation of such a system entails.
Currently, the legal status of the project is also questionable, as European Union directives do not allow mass collection of data from citizens.
In the Chinese social credit system, there are not only rewards, but also has penalties, such as restricted visa possibilities or higher taxes for “undesirable conduct,” all of it based on a set of criteria unknown to the public.