In China, you can now stalk blacklisted debtors on WeChat

The country has been testing a mini program in the province of Hebei since last week.

Zoey Chong Reporter
Zoey is CNET's Asia News Reporter based in Singapore. She prefers variety to monotony and owns an Android mobile device, a Windows PC and Apple's MacBook Pro all at the same time. Outside of the office, she can be found binging on Korean variety shows, if not chilling out with a book at a café recommended by a friend.
Zoey Chong
2 min read

The court encouraged people to discover "laolais" or blacklisted debtors around them in an announcement unveiling a new mini program on WeChat called "Deadbeat Map."

Screengrab by Zoey Chong/CNET

China is taking its social credit system a step further by naming and shaming "deadbeat" debtors on one of the most popular apps in the country, WeChat.

The Higher People's Court of Hebei launched a new mini program on WeChat last week that lets users see if a debtor listed on the country's credit blacklist is within 500 meters of their location, state-run media China Daily reported.

The so-called Deadbeat Map alerts users when a debtor is near them, and tapping into the program will reveal the debtor's personal information, including name, national identification number and how they came to be blacklisted. The mini program will make it easier for whistleblowers to report debtors deemed capable of repaying their debts, according the the publication.

The mini program is an extension of China's social credit system, which is expected to give its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score by next year. China Daily quoted a spokesman from the court as saying it was part of measures to "enforce… rulings and create a socially credible environment."

Under the social credit system, citizens are rated based on their behaviours and may fluctuate depending on what they do -- such as whether a person is jaywalking (a bad behaviour that could already get the offender publicly shamed) or buying Chinese-made goods. Scores will be determined by state-run technology including facial recognition, artificial intelligence and smart glasses. These scores could affect a citizen's ability to travel or own a property, or even to enroll their children in schools.

China's practice of publicly naming and shaming laolais (or "deadbeat debtors") who fail to repay their bank loans isn't new, having become a national policy in 2017. Last May, debtors also had their faces, names and other personal information broadcasted onto high-visibility platforms such as billboards and televisions during a national holiday when people were travelling more.

Some are worried about the social consequences that could come with the launch of the Deadbeat Map. Delia Lin, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at the University of Melbourne's Asia Institute, expressed concern that the mini program could "encourage people to take the law into their own hands" if it rolls out nationwide and turn society into a "virtual prison," according to ABC.

Watch this: China turns to tech to monitor, shame, rate citizens