China's New App Encourages its Citizens to Find and Report People in Debt

The app shows all "deadbeat debtors" within a 500 metre radius.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
Man holding an iPhone; image of app for tracking debtors
Image via MaxPixel, CC0 (L); YouTube/DailyNewsUSA

Earlier this month, Chinese authorities released an app that allows users to locate anyone within 500 metres with an unpaid fine. The mini-program is an extension of the popular messaging service WeChat, China Daily reports, and has been described by the Higher People’s Court of Hebei as a “a map of deadbeat debtors”: a way for everyday people to sniff out those who are neglecting to pay their debts, and report them to the relevant authorities.


Deadbeat debtors are derogatorily known as laolai in China, and are typically treated with disdain, as described by the Independent. The idea of this app is to essentially crowd-source a crackdown on insolvent borrowers by allowing users to find laolai in their area via an on-screen radar. The radar covers a 500 metre radius around the user, and changes colour depending on the concentration of laolai within that sphere: red for most concentrated, then orange, then yellow, and then blue. Tapping on the culprits reveals a wealth of personal information about them, according to Radii Media: including their full name, court case number, ID card number, home address, and the reason they’re on the list. If the user thinks that the laolai can afford to pay back their debt, but are simply neglecting to do so, they can then report them.

"It's a part of our measures to enforce our rulings and create a socially credible environment," a court spokesman said of the app. It’s also part of China’s broader “social credit” system, whereby citizens are awarded a score based on their “behaviour and trustworthiness”, Wired reports. Acts such as jaywalking, playing music loudly on public transport, or, importantly, failing to pay a court bill will all lower a person’s social credit score—and when one’s score is too low, they lose privileges such as being able to book a flight or a train ticket. Certain reports also speak of a “blacklist” within the system that works in a similar way: if you refuse to pay a fine then you could be blacklisted by the government, who will in turn refuse you certain privileges and creature comforts.

Although work on the social credit scoring algorithm is not yet complete, around 18 million people have already been banned from flying—and 5.5 million from purchasing high-speed train tickets—because of outstanding debts.

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