China reportedly made an app to show people if they're standing near someone in debt — a new part of its intrusive 'social credit' policy

A province in northern China developed an app to tell people whether they are walking near someone in debt, according to state media.

The app, named the "map of deadbeat debtors," rolled out to people in Hebei, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported . They can access it on WeChat, the country's most popular instant-messaging platform.

The "map of deadbeat debtors" WeChat program.

WeChat via China Daily

The program flashes a warning to show a user that they are within a 500-meter radius of someone in debt.

It shows the debtor's exact location, according to a screenshot of the app.

It's not clear whether the app displays a debtor's name, photos, or any other identity markers.

It's also not clear how much money one must owe — or to whom — to be defined as a debtor.

The app wants to get citizens to keep an eye on the so-called debtors.

China Daily said it would let people "whistle-blow on debtors capable of paying their debts."

It did not say what behavior could flag someone as capable of paying their debts.

Chinese families traditionally emphasize saving money to avoid spending with borrowed money or owing personal debt.

The "deadbeat debtors" map wants to get citizens to monitor so-called debtors and report them to authorities if they seem as if they could repay their debts.

Reuters/Edgar Su

Social-credit system

The new program comes as part of China's social-credit system, an extension of a person's financial credit score that will be mandatory in 2020.

It essentially judges a person's trustworthiness using measures like their ability to pay off loans and their behavior on public transport.

The argument for a social-credit system is that many people in China still have no formal access to traditional banks and therefore need an alternative system to assess whether they can pay off loans, rent houses, or even send their children to school.

Read more: Video shows how China warns its citizens to behave or get punished by its nationwide social credit system

President Xi Jinping's government is launching a "social credit" system to assess a person's trustworthiness beyond their financial credit score.

Reuters

At the moment the system is piecemeal — some are run by city councils and others by private tech platforms that hold personal data, like Alibaba and Tencent, WeChat's parent company.

The country already runs prototype blacklists that list people's names and partially redacted ID numbers.

Some people have already been penalized by the system. More than 6,000 people who failed to pay their taxes or misbehaved on public transport were barred from taking planes or trains in and out of the country between June and January, state media reported .

Read more: China has started ranking citizens with a creepy 'social credit' system — here's what you can do wrong, and the embarrassing, demeaning ways they can punish you

The government in Shenzhen photographs and publicly identifies people who have jaywalked on this blacklist.

https://www.stc.gov.cn/facei/

How much does WeChat know?

It's not clear whether users in Hebei have to separately download the "deadbeat debtors" app, also known as a WeChat mini-program, or whether it is automatically installed on their devices.

To use WeChat and its sister microblogging site Weibo in China, people have to provide their phone numbers and IP address, according to WeChat's privacy policy . Those who use WeChat Pay, the platform's payments arm, also have to give their credit-card details.

It is possible, however, that WeChat retains more user data than its privacy policy lets on.

The WeChat logo in Guangzhou, China, where its parent company, Tencent, is located. The company has passed on user data and the contents of private conversations to Chinese law-enforcement agencies in the past.

Bobby Yip/Reuters

Chinese tech giants have passed on user data and the contents of private conversations to Chinese law enforcement in the past.

In 2016, China's Ministry of Public Security announced that law-enforcement officers could obtain and use private conversations on WeChat in legal proceedings.

Last year, Chinese authorities in Hefei, in eastern China, said they accessed a user's deleted WeChat messages, apparently without having asked the user or the courts for a warrant.

More than 1 billion people in China are on WeChat. The number is expected to keep growing.

Read more: People in China can now file for divorce on the WeChat instant messaging app

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