From 2014-2017, China’s central bank allowed tech companies to pilot test personal data-driven consumer credit services that were said to contribute to the national effort to build a “social credit system.” There have been limited efforts to assess users’ comprehension of how tech companies are using their data, or analyses of potential risks posed to consumers. These pilot tests exemplify how institutions (including governments) are using non-financial data not only to make lending decisions, but also to grant preferential access to resources including foreign travel visas, hospital treatment, and commercial services including bicycle and car rentals, online dating, and housing rentals for high scorers. By interviewing Chinese citizens in Beijing and reviewing Chinese news reports and related literature, this pilot study uncovered four overarching concerns with the market-dominating credit service Sesame Credit: 1) consumers’ limited understanding of how their personal data is used in the credit rating process, 2) consumers’ doubt about the security of the digital credit services, 3) limited consumer choice due to high switching costs, and 4) consumers’ discomfort with merging social and financial information. These findings add value to the recent policy discussions on consumer protection and firm-state relationships in China.
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