Social credit apps, if poorly developed or used, can lead to serious limitations on, and violations of, citizens’ rights and freedoms, as well as discriminatory practices. Nevertheless, Italy has created a new social credit app to reward citizens for virtuous behavior.
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By rewarding some residents for their behavior through a point system, a new software recently developed in Italy bears remarkable resemblance to China’s social credit system.
The “Smart Citizen Wallet” was unveiled at a news conference on digital innovation in Bologna on March 29. Mayor Matteo Lepore and Massimo Bugani, director of the city’s “Digital Agenda,” spoke about the initiative.
The app is already operating in Rome, as per local newspaper Corriere di Bologna, which characterized the approach as “similar to a supermarket points collection.” It is now in its trial phases. This September, it will be introduced in Bologna.
Citizens who use the program will be rewarded for things like recycling, taking public transportation, managing their energy efficiently, and avoiding fines.
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Citizens will be able to increase their rating and earn points that they may “spend” on numerous prizes such as rebates and free cultural activities by engaging in so-called “virtuous behaviors.”
Bugani noted that the app was part of a larger initiative by the city of Bologna to engage in digital innovation at the March 29 conference.
“What we call a new ‘water system’ for the city is being built,” he said.
“In the coming years many services will go digital in Italy; we have an ambitious project here that is built on solid foundations.”
According to Bugani, the new smart citizen wallet software will be accessible to Bologna residents after this summer.
“Obviously no one will be forced to participate,” he said.
“Those who want to will be able to give consent when downloading and using the app.”
However, he expects that “many people will want to participate.”
“We want to make them understand that they are not ‘losers,’ but that their behavior is rewarded,” Bugnani explained.
Some Italian, French, and German journalists, writers, and bloggers have noted that the app’s premise is strikingly similar to China’s social credit system. This, too, compensates citizens based on a point system.
Numerous social media users were also aware of this. The concept was branded as “terrifying” by Twitter user Nat.
Others have drawn parallels with other digital projects, such as Thales’ Digital ID Wallet, and cautioned that such efforts could enable the government to implement a social credit system comparable to China’s in the West.
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On its website, Privacy Network, an Italian tech firm specializing on digital privacy, published a statement warning about the legal, ethical, and societal implications of such apps.
“These practices, if poorly developed or used, can lead to serious limitations on, and violations of, citizens’ rights and freedoms, as well as discriminatory practices, which are also achieved through technological means, such as ‘social credit’ systems (or social scoring),” the statement read.
“Our concern is increased by the fact that similar systems have already been introduced in other Italian cities as well; first of all, in Rome, where the Smart Citizen Wallet is already being tested.”
The Privacy Network said that it had made a formal demand for information regarding the app’s processes and features of any personal data processing, and also the identities of the providers and third parties participating in the project ‘s implementation.