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Big Data and the Illusion of Choice: Comparing the Evolution of India’s Aadhaar and China’s Social Credit System as Technosocial Discourses

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India and China have launched enormous projects aimed at collecting vital personal information regarding their billion-plus populations — and building the world’s biggest datasets in the process. However, both Aadhaar in India and the Social Credit System in China are controversial and raise a plethora of political and ethical concerns. The governments claim that participation in these projects is voluntary, even as they link vital services to citizens registering with these projects. In this study, we analyze how the news media in India and China — crucial data intermediaries that shape public perceptions on data and technological practices — framed these projects since their inception. LDA topic modeling suggests news coverage in both nations disregards the public interest and focuses largely on how businesses can benefit from them. The media, institutionally and ideologically linked with governments and corporations, show little concern with violations of privacy and mass surveillance that these projects could lead to. We argue that this renders individuals structurally incapable of making a meaningful “choice” about whether or not to participate in such projects. Implications for various stakeholders are discussed.
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Article
Big Data and the Illusion of
Choice: Comparing the Evolution
of India’s Aadhaar and China’s
Social Credit System as
Technosocial Discourses
Saif Shahin
1
and Pei Zheng
2
Abstract
India and China have launched enormous projects aimed at collecting vital personal information
regarding their billion-plus populations and building the world’s biggest data sets in the process.
However, both Aadhaar in India and the Social Credit System in China are controversial and raise a
plethora of political and ethical concerns. The governments claim that participation in these projects
is voluntary, even as they link vital services to citizens registering with these projects. In this study,
we analyze how the news media in India and China—crucial data intermediaries that shape public
perceptions on data and technological practices—framed these projects since their inception. Topic
modeling suggests news coverage in both nations disregards the public interest and focuses largely
on how businesses can benefit from them. The media, institutionally and ideologically linked with
governments and corporations, show little concern with violations of privacy and mass surveillance
that these projects could lead to. We argue that this renders citizens structurally incapable of making
a meaningful “choice” about whether or not to participate in such projects. Implications for various
stakeholders are discussed.
Keywords
Aadhaar, Social Credit System, media, privacy, surveillance, data
Nandan Nilekani, a technology entrepreneur who famously coined the phrase, “The world is flat”
(Wired, 2005), used to head Aadhaar, the Indian government’s project to build a database containing
1.3 billion citizens’ demographic and biometric information including fingerprints and iris scans.
The project has been described as “the most sophisticated ID program” in the world by World Bank
chief economist Paul Roemer (Bloomberg, 2017). Facing a challenge in court over concerns that
1
American University, Washington, DC, USA
2
Ithaca College, New York, USA
Corresponding Author:
Saif Shahin, American University, Washington, DC 20016, USA.
Email: shahin@american.edu
Social Science Computer Review
2020, Vol. 38(1) 25-41
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/0894439318789343
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Aadhaar would imperil Indian citizens’ privacy, Nilekani penned a newspaper column in which he
justified the collection of personal data on the grounds of “freedom of individual choice.” He argued
that “enrolment in Aadhaar is voluntary and individuals granting permission for [data collection] for
their own convenience and benefit hardly qualifies as a violation of their right to privacy” (Nilekani,
2015, para. 4).
Nilekani’s argument was later described by a petitioner as “disingenuous” because individuals
really had little choice but to enroll whether the government would oblige them to have Aadhaar IDs
for availing even basic social and financial services (Chandrasekhar, 2015). And yet, there was more
than barefaced disingenuity to Nilekani’s invocation of the “freedom of individual choice” as the
legal and moral basis for Aadhaar. It also reflected an ideological belief that individuals made
informed cost–benefit choices on their own and were therefore solely responsible for them. This
ideological belief underpins virtually all user agreements employed by technology companies that
directly or indirectly collect users’ personal data—such as Google and Facebook (Hoofnagle &
Urban, 2014). As a result, individuals—instead of governments or corporations—become what
Baruh and Popescu (2017) called the “locus of privacy decision” in such matters (p. 585). All forms
of personal data collection, along with their (mis)uses by governments and corporations, come to be
justified in the name of individual choice.
Surely, expecting citizens to make such choices and holding them responsible for their choices
presume that they fully understand the costs and benefits of those choices. It further assumes that the
social and cultural institutions that shape public understandings of technology services and data
projects—what Sawicki and Craig (1996) called “data intermediaries”—transparently present their
costs and benefits to citizens. The news media, the most common sources for citizens to learn about
government-run data projects, are perhaps the most important data intermediary shaping public
perceptions of data projects and their potential impact on private lives (Schrock & Shaffer, 2017;
Shahin, 2017). As Quail and Larabie (2010) observed, “media discourses reflect wider socio-
political values regarding the public interest and public utilities, the relationship between the news
and an informed society, and most specifically, the mobilization of ideology and power of naming
and circulating narratives and truths” (p. 38). Indeed, this was probably the reason why Nilekani
himself chose to write a newspaper column to contest the petition against Aadhaar.
Proceeding from this premise, our study focuses on understanding how the news media covered
two of the world’s biggest government-run data projects: Aadhaar in India and the Social Credit
System (SCS) in China. The latter collects information on citizens’ consumer activities and social
behavior to predict their chances of paying credit card bills and mortgages. Both these projects
exemplify the widespread belief that Big Data—referring to our growing capacity to gather, store,
analyze, and cross-reference enormous quantities of digital information—can bring an end to
“market crashes, ethnic and religious violence, political stalemates, widespread corruption, and
dangerous concentrations of power” (Pentland, 2014, p. 16). Others have, however, pointed out a
slew of ethical and political challenges that Big Data’s emergence has created, including the
“dangerous concentration of power” in the hands in governments and corporations that compile
and control Big Data—especially in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations that the U.S.
government was colluding with technology companies to run surveillance programs on a global
scale (boyd & Crawford, 2012; Shahin, 2016b).
Our study aims to unravel how Aadhaar and the SCS have been framed since the Indian and
Chinese media started covering them in 2009 and 2007, respectively. In particular, we are interested
in exploring the extent to which the news media made citizens aware of how these projects could
compromise their privacy, leave them susceptible to surveillance, and further entrench the power of
governments and corporations to determine how people lead their lives. We take a comparative and
longitudinal approach that traces how media coverage differed between the two nations and evolved
over the years within each nation.
26 Social Science Computer Review 38(1)
Our analysis has both ethical and political dimensions. The legal supposition that consumers
make individual choices about using Big Data–enabled technology services—and are therefore
responsible for them—is ethically built on the conceptualization of citizens as “privacy pragmatists”
who willingly give up their privacy for enjoying the benefits and conveniences that technologies
offer (Kumaraguru & Cranor, 2005). This belief persists even though empirical studies have showed
it to be unfounded (Elueze & Quan-Haase, 2018; Hoofnagle & Urban, 2014). We argue that the
broader sociocultural milieu within which individuals make their “choice”—specifically the role of
data intermediaries such as the news media—must also be a part of these conversations. In doing so,
we draw attention to the structural relations between governments, corporations, and the news media
and how they shape public understandings of Big Data and its impact and value for individuals and
society.
Sociology of Big Data
A Technosocial Phenomenon
Big data is typically viewed as a technological phenomenon of the information age. Three Vs are
often invoked to describe Big Data—volume, Velocity, and Variety—referring to the unprecedented
scale of data sets, the unprecedented speeds at which data are being produced, and the unprecedented
range of data types and forms (Ward & Barker, 2013). Such data are collected from a variety of
sources including sensor networks, government data holdings, credit cards, and public profiles on
social networking sites. The three Vs focus on data magnitude, but equally important are the
emerging techniques being employed to analyze and make sense of data (Andrejevic & Gates,
2014). Big Data analytics has found an enormous range of applications, from enabling corporations
to predict customer preferences (McIntyre, Michael, & Albrecht, 2015) to allowing scientists to
tackle diseases (Mneney & Van Belle, 2016).
Beyond technology and analysis, boyd and Crawford (2012) identified a third crucial component
of Big Data—mythology, or “the widespread belief that large data sets offer a higher form of
intelligence” (p. 663). This component draws attention to the technoutopian view that Big Data are
“objective” and untainted by human foibles (Pentland, 2014). The mythology of Big Data blinkers
us to the fact that the algorithms that enable Big Data mining, storage, and analysis are ultimately
produced by human beings and are subject to the same social forces that govern all aspects of human
behavior. For instance, a Big Data tool for criminal risk assessment used in the United States was
found to disproportionately predict Black defendants as criminals “at almost twice the rate as White
defendants” (Angwin, Larson, Mattu, & Kirchner, 2016, para. 16). Racial bias against Blacks and
Asians was also coded into facial recognition algorithms used by Google Photos and Nikon cameras
(Crawford, 2016).
Privacy and Mass Surveillance
The collection and use—or misuse—of personal data by governments and commercial enterprises
has long been a privacy concern (Garson, 1988). But the emergence of Big Data has amplified it
manifold. Websites, social media technologies, telecom operators, credit card companies, and other
data-based services collect users’ personal data from a variety of data points with or without users’
knowledge. Even more insidiously, Big Data allows the cross-referencing of multiple data sets: This
means even if one data set does not have personal indicators, combining it with others may create
them. For instance, Acquisti, Gross, and Stutzman (2011) found that facial recognition applications
can match anonymous profiles on dating sites with their public Facebook photographs. There are
also examples of “de-identified” private information analyzed for commercial benefits (Ohm, 2010).
Shahin and Zheng 27
The legal framework within which governments and corporations operate often holds users
themselves to be responsible for their privacy. Users are defined as “privacy pragmatists” who,
while concerned with their privacy, are often willing to sacrifice it for enjoying the benefits offered
by Big Data–oriented technology services (Kumaraguru & Cranor, 2005). Even authorities in the
United States make it incumbent upon individuals to “evaluate their choices and take responsibility
for the ones they make” (White House, 2012). Consequently, it is individuals, instead of govern-
ments or corporations, who become the “locus of privacy decision”—a framework which “may not
only fail to protect individual privacy, but also bias the privacy calculus of the larger society by
reducing the level of privacy available to all” (Baruh & Popescu, 2017, p. 585). Belief in “privacy
pragmatists” persists, even though empirical studies have repeatedly showed that many people are
often unaware of how technology services compromise their privacy and many citizens want more
regulations on the activities of governments and corporations providing such services (Elueze &
Quan-Haase, 2018; Hoofnagle & Urban, 2014).
India’s privacy laws follow the same logic. For example, the Information Technology Act of
2000, a 2008 amendment to the act, and the 2011 Rules define biometric data as “sensitive data that
are only to be shared with consent” (Roy & Kalra, 2011). In other words, individuals are responsible
for the security of their biometric data. But “consent” itself is so vaguely defined that it has little
practical value (Dixon, 2017). In China, privacy has been defined as a fundamental right in the
constitution (Stanaland & Lwin, 2013). In 2000, a few regulations were passed to protect Internet
information security and privacy. But the government has tightened its control over Internet service
providers in recent years, requiring them to record subscribers’ telephone numbers and maintain the
records for 2 months (Central People’s Government, 2000). In 2012, some social media platforms
required users to provide real names to register. In 2016, the Internet Security Law of People’s
Republic of China was implemented, which asked all Internet service providers solicit personal
information when signing contracts with their users.
Closely related to the issue of digital privacy is the concern over mass surveillance by govern-
ments in collusion with technology companies. This practice became painfully evident when
Edward Snowden, a U.S. intelligence employee, revealed in 2013 that the U.S. government was
running global surveillance programs with the help of other governments and technology companies
including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype, Yahoo, and YouTube (Gellman & Poitras,
2013).
Safire (2002) argued that people curtail the extent of information they exchange over Internet,
fearing that their online activities may be recorded and stored and possibly become accessible to
government agencies for subsequent scrutiny. More recently, Stoycheff (2016) showed that Snow-
den’s revelations had filled citizens with deep apprehensions about being constantly under surveil-
lance and caused a “chilling effect” on the quality of online public discourse. In China and India,
studies on surveillance have focused on public health issues (Chadha et al., 2012; Shah & Mathur,
2010) such as HIV (Sun et al., 2007), birth defects (Dai et al., 2011), and H1N1 (Liang et al., 2011).
Big Data Projects in India and China
Aadhaar in India
The Indian government’s unique identification (UID) project, known as Aadhaar (or “foundation” in
Hindi), issues a 12-digit number to every resident, generated after recording their demographic as
well as biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans. The project got under way in 2009, and the
Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) started registering residents for Aadhaar in 2010.
Media reports said nearly 99%of residents had been registered by the end of 2017. The government
calls it “a strategic policy tool for social and financial inclusion, public sector delivery reforms,
28 Social Science Computer Review 38(1)
managing fiscal budgets, increase convenience and promote hassle-free people-centric governance”
(UIDAI.gov, n.d., para. 4).
The project officially aims to curb corruption in the transfer of benefits to the public by taking out
middlemen and allowing people, especially the poor, direct access to a range of welfare schemes.
But despite claiming that participation was voluntary, the Indian government has made Aadhaar
mandatory for citizens to access a variety of social and financial services such as maintaining bank
accounts and insurance policies, even for paying taxes. Still, even by 2017, there were hardly any
legislative measures in place to protect the data being collected by the government and the tech-
nology companies that worked on its behalf (Dixon, 2017).
The project has raised fears of privacy violations and mass surveillance. Soon after it was
launched, Indian intelligence officials said its purpose was to flush out illegal immigrants in the
country—the reason why residents and not just citizens were asked to register for Aadhaar—and the
claim that Aadhaar would help deliver welfare schemes was just a ruse (Tehelka, 2009). Security
officials made attempts to use the Aadhaar database to find “criminals” although they were stopped
by the courts from doing so (Indian Express, 2014). There have also been instances of data collected
under Aadhaar leaking out and becoming publicly available (Hindustan Times, 2017). Common
citizens, however, mostly remain unaware of the dangers posed by Aadhaar to their privacy and its
potential as a surveillance tool (Srinivasan, Bailur, Schoemaker, & Seshagiri, 2018).
SCS in China
Under the SCS, the Chinese government proposes to assign a social credit rating to every citizen
representing their “trustworthiness” based on their everyday social and economic activities. The idea
started being discussed in official and nonofficial circles in the early 2000s and draft planning
outlines were proposed. The State Council of China’s planning outline for the construction of an
SCS (2014–2020), issued in 2014, states that the SCS will focus on four major areas: honesty in
government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity, and judicial credibility. The goal is to
“raise the awareness for integrity and the level of credibility within society” (China Copyright and
Media, 2014). To implement it, the government will track and evaluate
what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you
interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills
and taxes you pay (or not). (Wired, 2017, para. 2)
In essence, SCS will allow the Chinese government, and the technology companies that work
with it, to monitor every social, economic, and political action taken by every citizen as well as most
of their private activities. The proposal stems from a lack of social and economic trust that has
engulfed Chinese society since its turn to market economics in the 1980s. Among other things, it
prevents individuals and small businesses from getting loans from banks. But “rather than promoting
the organic return of traditional morality to reduce the gulf of distrust, the Chinese government has
preferred to invest its energy in technological fixes” (Hawkins, 2017, para. 5). The idea has also
raised the hackles of data protection and privacy advocates, who have called it “an excuse to
implement surveillance and control” (para. 17).
Sociology of News
News Framing
Media scholars have long argued that news is never an accurate reflection of an “out-there” reality.
Instead, the news media “construct” reality by framing the coverage of issues and events in
Shahin and Zheng 29
particular ways (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989). As Entman (1993) observed, journalists “select some
aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as
to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment
recommendation” (p. 52). In other words, news coverage amplifies certain features of an issue or
event, so as to create a certain perception of it, while marginalizing or disregarding other aspects.
Framing coheres with the phenomenological perspective that “facts” don’t have immanent mean-
ings—instead, meanings are made. Those who control the meaning-making process are able to exert
power by affecting others’ perceptions, attitudes, and actions.
Several studies have showed a significant link between news frames and public perceptions of
various political (Brewer & Gross, 2010) and economic (De Vreese, 2010) issues. But why do the
news media frame issues in certain ways? Reese (2001) has argued that the framing of news is not
arbitrary but follows a cultural logic. The way journalists cover an issue coheres with their ideolo-
gical beliefs about the way the world is or should be. These beliefs, in turn, are socially reproduced
in and through news frames. Reese therefore defines frames as “organizing principles that are
socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social
world” (p. 11).
News Ideologies
Culturally and critically oriented media scholars have identified various kinds of ideologies that
produce news frames. Durham (1998), for instance, suggested that positivism was an ideology of
journalism and deeply imbricated in the process of news framing. As an epistemology, positivism
refers to the knowledge based on empirical evidence. As an ideology, positivism implies the
deployment of “empirical evidence” to enforce particular interpretations upon facts and control the
meaning-making process. Durham argued that journalists sought to control meaning-making by
covering “atomistic events” in relation to other events across space or time, thus weaving them
into specific social narratives and imposing particular meanings upon them.
A number of scholars have also emphasized neoliberalism as an ideological influence on news
(Philo, 2014). While journalism is normatively expected to serve the public interest, it often ends up
representing the interests of corporations and big businesses. In Western democracies such as the
United States and Britain, this happens at least partly because news organizations are embedded
within capitalist economic structures and rely on other corporations for advertising revenue, among
other things (Herman & Chomsky, 1988). But the impact of neoliberalism on the news media has
also been evident in nations such as India and China. Thussu (2007) rued the “Murdochization” of
Indian television news, while Shahin (2017) observed a general tendency in the Indian media to
repose their faith in “benign capitalism.” In a similar vein, Lee (2003, p. 18) accused the Chinese
media of “wearing a socialist face with a capitalist body.”
Method
The general objective of our study is to understand how the Indian and Chinese news media, as data
intermediaries, framed Aadhaar and SCS, respectively. We then use our empirical analysis to infer
what kinds of ideologies shaped the news coverage and the implications of this social process for
public understandings of these Big Data projects. To conduct our empirical analysis, we mined
Indian news coverage of Aadhaar from 2009—the year the project was launched—until 2016. A
search in the Nexis Uni database for the key words “Aadhaar” or “UIDAI” in the headlines or lead
paragraphs of articles in Indian news publications in English provided a corpus of 5,090 articles
(while India has a number of regional languages, English is the only language spoken nationwide;
India also has an extensive network of English news publications; see Shahin, 2017). We also
30 Social Science Computer Review 38(1)
searched the Huike database of Chinese news articles for “SCS.” Coverage picked up in the year
2007 and yielded a corpus of 5,608 articles (in Mandarin) from that year until 2016.
Both these databases include a wide range of major and minor publications from the two nations.
Our two corpora, therefore, represented a close approximation of the news coverage of the Aadhaar
and SCS in India and China, respectively. But traditional qualitative or quantitative content analysis
would have required us to draw smaller samples of a few hundred articles from these corpora,
creating the possibility that we would leave out important elements of the coverage. We therefore
conducted our analysis using topic modeling, a machine learning technique that enabled us to study
both corpora in their entirety. Specifically, we adopted a form of topic modeling called latent
Dirichlet allocation (LDA), which parses textual data to reveal the set of “topics” or themes that
the articles focus on. Each topic is a set of “key words” with a high probability of occurring
proximate to each other across the corpus. Understanding the semantic links among the key words
reveals the meaning of the topic to the researcher. In addition, LDA provides the proportion of use of
each topic within a document. This allows the researcher to understand which topics are more
prominent in the text and which topics are marginalized. The technique is therefore useful for
discovering frames in large volumes of news coverage. Because of its strengths, LDA topic model-
ing is being increasingly used for the analysis of news articles (DiMaggio, Nag, & Blei, 2013;
Jacobi, Atteveldt, & Welbers, 2016). Comparative methodological studies have found it to be
compatible with qualitative textual analysis (Shahin, 2016a) and more reliable than some other
algorithmic research techniques (Guo, Vargo, Pan, Ding, & Ishwar, 2016).
For our study, we split the Indian and the Chinese corpora into yearly blocks to be able to track
the year-by-year evolution of different topics in each corpus. Topic modeling was conducted using
Python software (Python v.2). The package “genism” was used for analyzing the Indian corpus,
while the Chinese corpus was analyzed using “jieba,” a package that solves the issue of word split
and text segmentation in Mandarin. The Python module for topic modeling includes stop words
(such as “is/are” and “the/a”) for the program to ignore. We also excluded words comprising more
than 10%of an entire corpus to make sure that the key words in our topics were not too generic.
News Coverage of Aadhaar in India
A five-topic model emerged from the Indian news corpus (see Table 1. Two topics dominated in the
first couple of years, which we have labeled Biometric Data and Commercial Benefits, respectively
(see Figure 1). Biometric Data includes key words such as “iris” and “fingerprints” along with
“collected,” referring to the kind of personal data the government would collect under Aadhaar. This
topic also includes “npr,” “registrar,” “census,” and “enrollment”—key words indicating where and
how such data would be collected and stored (NPR is the abbreviation for National Population
Registry). For instance, one article headlined, “Fingerprinting or iris scan during 2011 census for
UID scheme” (Times of India, 2009), reported that the government would collect citizens’ finger-
prints and iris scans while conducting the regular census in 2011. Another key word in this topic,
“cabinet,” refers to the cabinet of federal ministers who were creating the legislative framework for
collecting biometric data. Overall, this topic signifies a focus on what kind of biometric data would
be collected, how it would be collected and stored, and the legal/legislative framework that would
enable this process.
The topic Commercial Benefits includes the key words “business,” “customer,” “payment,”
“payments,” “transactions,” and “tax.” In addition, the key word “rbi” refers to the Reserve Bank
of India, the country’s federal bank, and “kyc” refers to Know Your Customer—a regulation that
enjoins banks and other financial institutions to possess personal details of their clients. This topic
relates to how commercial enterprises would benefit from Aadhaar. Several articles reported that
Aadhaar would make it very easy for businesses to meet the KYC regulation. Others suggested it
Shahin and Zheng 31
would simplify payments and transactions, as well as tax collection. A number of articles also talked
about the UIDAI, the government body overseeing the project, working closely with business
enterprises to facilitate data collection.
In 2011, a third topic—Administrative Process—became dominant and the key words include
“administration,” “police,” “post,” “offices,” “enrollment,” “form,” “customers,” and “employees.”
This reflects a shift in focus of news coverage from the nature of data to be collected and the legal
infrastructure that would enable it to the nitty-gritty of Aadhaar’s implementation. Articles in this
period often reported on how citizens were being enrolled for data collection and how administrative
offices and services—such as police and post offices—were being mobilized for it. As one article
reported, “Currently, 14 post offices in the national capital are involved in enrolling citizens under
Aadhaar which will be increased to 70 by the month end, the chief postmaster general (Delhi circle),
Rameshwari Handa, said on Thursday” (Mail Today, 2011).
Yet another topic, Public Welfare, became dominant in 2012. With key words such as “pds,”
“dbt,” “food,” “cylinders,” “transfers,” “payment,” and “payments,” this topic represents a concern
with how common people, especially the poor, would benefit from Aadhaar. Several articles talked
0 102030405060
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
Biometric Data Commercial Benefits Administrave Process Public Welfare Privacy Polics
Figure 1. Proportion of use of different topics in the coverage of Aadhaar (figures in %).
Table 1. Topic Model of the Coverage of Aadhaar in Indian News Media.
Topic Key Words
Biometric Data npr, cabinet, iris, duplication, registrar, fingerprints, collected, census, enrollment,
concerns
Commercial Benefits digital, business, kyc, payments, transactions, rbi, customer, tax, payment, infosys
Administrative
Process
post, enrollment, offices, ration, hyderabad, police, employees, administration, form,
customers
Public Welfare food, transfers, dbt, jharkhand, cent, pds, payments, enabled, payment, cylinders
Privacy Politics privacy, bench, congress, voters, election, party, students, justice, electoral, bjp
32 Social Science Computer Review 38(1)
about the government being able to make payments and transfer various utilities to the public
directly, without involving middlemen and thus reducing corruption. As one report said,
“Aadhaar-enabled applications will be used for making pension payments, MNREGA payments,
PDS distribution, scholarship payments, etc” (India Today, 2012). PDS refers to the public distri-
bution system, using which the Indian government provides food and a few other essential items to
the public at subsidized rates through fair price shops. The system has been beset for decades with
problems such as middlemen siphoning off food grains and contractors at fair price shops charging
customers unfair prices. Aadhaar, the media claimed, would circumvent these problems by allowing
the government to transfer benefits directly to end-beneficiaries. The key word “dbt” refers to direct
benefit transfer, another scheme launched in 2013 that formalizes the idea of direct transfer of
government benefits to the public.
The topic Administrative Process once again dominated in 2013 and 2014, followed by Com-
mercial Benefits. By this time, all the topics were being covered in reasonable proportions, including
our fifth and last topic, Privacy Politics. This topic includes the key word “privacy,” “bench,” and
“justice.” They signify the media taking note of litigations challenging the Aadhaar project over
privacy concerns and courts getting involved in the matter. For instance, one article noted, “A Bench
of Justices B S Chauhan and S A Bobde sought the states’ views to ascertain their understanding of
the nature of the UIDAI scheme and whether they had also linked Aadhaar cards to such services and
if so the manner of doing it” (Indian Express, 2013). But while focusing on court proceedings, the
articles rarely discussed the substantive basis of these litigations. The news coverage made little
effort to inform the public about the specific ways in which these litigations claimed Aadhaar could
imperil their privacy and leave them susceptible to surveillance.
Privacy Politics also included key words such as “congress,” “bjp,” “party,” election,”
“electoral,” and “voters.” The Congress is the oldest political party of India and was heading the
federal government until the national election of 2014, after which its main rival, the BJP, came to
power. The makeup of the topic suggests that privacy concerns were closely tied with this shift in
Indian politics. Several articles reported that the new BJP-led government might not continue with
the project, especially as a number of BJP members had criticized Aadhaar in previous years,
including Narendra Modi who became the prime minister in 2014. By 2015, though, it became
clear that the BJP was going to push the project forward with a vengeance and make Aadhaar cards
mandatory for citizens to avail of a range of public services. As one newspaper noted, “The Aadhaar
project was started by the Congress-led UPA II government and is being defended by the Narendra
Modi government. But the ruling BJP had assailed the scheme while in the Opposition” (Telegraph,
2015). Privacy politics was the biggest topic of news coverage in 2015, although only marginally
larger than administrative process and commercial benefits.
News Coverage of SCS in China
The LDA analysis of the Chinese corpus reveals a model with five topics (see Table 2. A single
topic, Commercial Benefits & Rural Welfare, dominated the coverage all through, with the year
2011 as the only exception (see Figure 2). Key words in this topic include “small business,” “rural
residents,” “rural area, “register,” “bank,” and “taxpayer.” This topic relates to how businesses and
citizens would benefit from SCS, especially small businesses and rural residents. These are two
segments of the Chinese economy that have long struggled to borrow money from banks because
they do not have as much capital as big companies and urban residents. The news media suggested
that a more reliable credit evaluation system, such as the one offered by SCS, would allow them
easier access to finance. Also, the SCS database would help the government identify impoverished
rural areas more accurately and help them with welfare schemes more effectively. In addition, by
Shahin and Zheng 33
rating taxpayers and building a better tax management system, the SCS would enable conscientious
taxpayers to benefit from lower rates when borrowing from banks.
While Commercial Benefits & Rural Welfare dominated all through, other topics also gained
secondary prominence at different stages. For instance, the topic American Model, with key words
such as “United States,” “capitalism,” “marketization,” “should,” “rules,” and “trustworthy,” was
the second largest topic in the early years of 2007 and 2008, when SCS was being envisaged. It
implies that from the outset, the Chinese media framed the idea of a credit system as not exclusive to
China but one already in place in capitalist economies such as the United States. The media
suggested that China “should” follow the American model to improve marketization and build a
credit society where the rules of evaluating individuals were based on credit scores. This, however,
was also the time when the subprime crisis hit the United States and exposed the limitations of a
capitalist economic structure. But instead of changing their tune, the Chinese media framed the
subprime crisis as “a lesson to learn in the importance of building up a credit system nationwide”
(Zhou, 2009).
Table 2. Topic Model of the Coverage of Social Credit System in Chinese News Media.
Topic Key words
Commercial Benefits &
Rural Welfare
small business, register, city government, bank branch, regulation, policy,
shanghai, rural resident, pay tax, rural area, bank of china
American Model united states, rules, expression, capital, trust, should, trustworthy, marketization
Administrative Intent province-level, gongsheng pan, province, bank of china, each province, weiliang
lian, department-level
Legislative Foundation policy draft, law, phenomena, legal regulation, sexual, li keqiang, people’s republic
of china, hold
Market Regulation professionals, price, internet, uncover, statistics, information safety, e-commerce,
intellectual copyright, trust education
0 10203040506070
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
Commercial Benefits & Rural Welfare American Model
Administrave Intent Legislave Foundaon
Market Regulaon
Figure 2. Proportion of use of different topics in the coverage of Social Credit System (figures in %).
34 Social Science Computer Review 38(1)
In the next 2 years, media coverage focused on how various levels of China’s political and fiscal
administration were determined to build the SCS. This is evident from the prominence of Admin-
istrative Intent, a topic with key words such as “province,” “province-level,” “department-level,”
“each province,” “People’s Bank of China,” “Pan Gongsheng (vice president of People’s Bank of
China),” “Lian Weiliang (deputy director of National Development and Reform Commission),” and
so on. In 2011, Legislative Foundation suddenly became biggest topic, upstaging Commercial
Benefits & Rural Welfare. Its key words, such as “policy,” “draft,” “law,” “legal,” “illegal,” and
“hold (conference),” relate to the necessity and urgency of strengthening the judicial structure to
prepare for the SCS, punish wrongdoers, and reward reliable individuals and companies. This was
also the year when China’s so-called socialist judicial system was completed, marking “a new stage
in which there shall be laws to abide by, everyone should abide by the laws, the laws must be
enforced strictly, and those who violate the law must be dealt with” (People’s Daily, 2011). The
media saw this system as laying the foundation for SCS.
But 2011 was an exception. From 2012 to 2016, Commercial Benefits & Rural Welfare once
again became the biggest topic, followed by Administrative Process. Since 2014, however, the fifth
and final topic—Market Regulation—also became quite sizable. This topic includes key words such
as “internet,” “e-commerce,” “information safety,” “intellectual copyright,” “integrity education,”
“uncover,” and “price.” It reflects media coverage of issues such as how to identify fake online
transactions, strengthen online product quality inspection, inspect fake advertising and inaccurate
online product descriptions, and bolster integrity education for citizens and business owners to build
commercial integrity. The topic gained prominence when a planning outline for the construction of
an SCS (2014–2020) was proposed in June 2014. This was also the time when Alibaba Group,
China’s biggest e-commerce and technology company with online sales and profits surpassing
several major U.S. retailers (including Walmart, Amazon and eBay), made significant strides with
moves such as offering its shares on the New York Stock Exchange. All these events led to the media
coverage of SCS focusing on the need to build integrity and trust for encouraging e-business and
e-finance in China. For example, an article quoted Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, as saying,
I always believe that integrity can turn to money and it is the biggest wealth one can have .... Ten
years ago, nobody dared to buy goods online, but now it is different because we trust each other.
Trust, therefore, is the productive force. (Xinhua.net, 2014)
Discussion
Juxtaposing the news coverage of Aadhaar in India and the SCS in China reveals a number of
similarities and differences between them. The biggest difference is that no single topic dominates
the coverage in India the way Commercial Benefits & Rural Welfare does in China. Also, the Indian
media pay attention to the details of the biometric data to be collected under Aadhaar, especially in
the early stages, while the Chinese media focus on China’s structural readiness for a credit-oriented
economic system. But such differences are to be expected. After all, not only are these two Big Data
projects different in character and scope, but the media and political systems in India and China are
also vastly different (Shahin, Zheng, Sturm, & Fadnis, 2016). India is a parliamentary democracy
with a diverse range of mostly independent news organizations and publications (Chakravartty &
Roy, 2013). China, in contrast, is a one-party autocracy where the news media are mostly state-
controlled or self-censored (Fung, 2007; Pan, 2000). It is, therefore, the similarities in coverage that
become more surprising and theoretically and normatively significant.
One common feature in both nations is that the media coverage is event-driven. This is proble-
matic not because of what gets covered but because of what doesn’t. In India, where coverage began
with the government’s decision to launch Aadhaar, the media over the years took little note of the
absence of a robust legislative framework that would clearly lay out Aadhaar’s purpose and also
Shahin and Zheng 35
define its limits (Dixon, 2017). The government kept expanding the project on a piecemeal basis by
issuing decisions related to Aadhaar’s administration and scope. These “events”—or what journal-
ists call “news pegs”—were indeed covered. But as lawmakers were not doing anything to build a
legislative foundation for Aadhaar, there were no news pegs for journalists to base their coverage on.
The issue, significant as it was, slipped through the cracks of journalistic practice. In China, where
coverage began when the idea of the SCS started being floated in official and nonofficial circles, the
media’s focus was on reporting how administrative and financial mandarins were positively cam-
paigning for the project. Legislative foundation did become a significant topic briefly when it was
driven by an event: the 2011 launch of the so-called socialist judicial system that was expected to
form the basis for SCS. After that year, though, the issue was once again sidelined.
Second, even as Indian and Chinese media neglected to cover significant “nonevents,” major
domestic and international events not related directly to Aadhaar or SCS served as nodal points in
their topical trajectories. In China, the U.S. subprime crisis became a part of the American model
topic and made it prominent in media coverage of SCS in 2007–2008. Similarly, Alibaba’s listing on
foreign stock exchanges coincided with market regulation becoming a large topic in 2014. In India,
the expected launch of the direct benefit transfer scheme in 2013 drew the media’s attention to issues
such as food subsidies and payment transfers all through 2012 and made public welfare the dominant
topic that year. And in 2014, the national election finally managed to get privacy issues related to
Aadhaar on the media’s agenda and turned privacy politics into a significant topic.
Durham (1998) has identified positivism as an ideology of journalism that underlies the framing
process. He defines framing as “the mechanism for gathering and joining ‘atomistic events’ into
news stories” (p. 114). From this perspective, frames connect disparate events to form social
narratives and allow journalists to control how events are interpreted. The Indian and Chinese
media’s unwillingness to cover “nonevents” and their co-optation of disparate domestic and inter-
national events into the framing of Aadhaar and SCS reflect this tendency. This is perhaps most
obvious in how the U.S. subprime crisis was weaved into Chinese media coverage of the SCS and
(mis)used to argue for the necessity of a credit-based system, when the crisis in fact showed how
fragile such a system could be.
This points us toward yet another common ideological underpinning in the framing of Aadhaar
and SCS—neoliberalism. News media in both India and China gave extensive coverage to the
commercial benefits of these data projects and justified them on these very grounds. Previous studies
have noted the Indian media’s belief in “benign capitalism” (Shahin, 2017) and the Chinese media
“wearing a socialist face with a capitalist body” (Lee, 2003, p. 18). Our analysis suggests that a
neoliberal ideology also undergirds their framing of Big Data projects, in which public welfare is at
best a by-product of an economic system whose primary goal is to facilitate corporate profiteering.
Privacy and mass surveillance are conspicuously absent from the coveragein both countries. Aadhaar
and SCS possess the potential to hand over the control of citizens’personal lives to governments and the
private technology vendors they work in tandem with (Dixon, 2017; Hawkins, 2017). Yet in India,
privacy becomes an important topic of coverage only in 2015. Even then, the coverage is not substantive.
News reports focus on mundane court proceedings of privacy litigations rather than the significant
concerns raised by the litigants. The issue is also framed within the context of the national election. In
China, meanwhile, privacy never grows into a noteworthy topic, as the news media disregard it alto-
gether. It means that in both these nations, common citizens who rely on the news media for most—ifnot
all—of their knowledge about these Big Data projects are unlikely to be aware of how these projects
could undermine their personal lives and make them susceptible to government and corporate control.
The invocation of the so-called freedom of individual choice to hold individuals responsible for
their own privacy in their dealings with technology companies and government-run data projects is
thus naı
¨vete´ at best subterfuge at worst. Individual choice is a chimera in a politicoeconomic milieu
in which the news media, the most significant data intermediaries shaping public understandings of
36 Social Science Computer Review 38(1)
data and technologies, are institutionally and ideologically bound to the same governments and
corporations that profit from data projects and technology services (Sen, 2016; Yu, 2017). Similarly,
the construction of human beings as “privacy pragmatists” (Kumaraguru & Cranor, 2005) who
weigh their loss of privacy against the benefits of using digital technologies or participating in data
projects is simplistic and reductionist (Elueze & Quan-Haase, 2018; Hoofnagle & Urban, 2014). Our
study shows that such “pragmatism” isn’t individualistic and doesn’t exist in a political and ethical
vacuum: It is produced by a social structure that privileges technology adoption and participation in
projects such as Aadhaar and SCS while concealing how they compromise privacy and leave
citizens susceptible to surveillance. Without such awareness, it is no surprise that most citizens
“choose” to participate in these Big Data projects (Srinivasan et al., 2018).
Our analysis thus exposes how a nexus of neoliberal governments, corporations, and the news
media imposes exploitative Big Data projects in nations of the Global South while making citizens
structurally incapable of resisting them or even recognizing the need to resist them. This relationship
corresponds with what Lukes (1974, p. 24) called the third face of power, which makes citizens
willing to “accept their role in the existing order of things” and nullifies even the possibility of
resistance. This social structure is reflected in and reinforced through the semantic structure of news
coverage, specifically the news framing process that shapes what citizens expect or want from these
projects.
The social and policy implications of our study are wide-ranging. Both bottom-up and top-down
efforts are needed to alter the nature of structural relations that normalize surveillance and violations
of privacy although such efforts will have to be aligned with the political, economic, and cultural
particularities of each nation. First, data protection and digital rights activists need to recognize the
importance of educating citizens about why privacy matters and how Big Data projects undermine it.
In effect, they ought to view themselves as data intermediaries who make positive efforts to build
public awareness about data practices rather than rely on the news media to do so. Only then could
the public begin to have a meaningful “choice” in such matters. Such activism would be relatively
easier in India than China, where the government has always clamped down hard on grassroots
attempts to make digital technologies public-service-oriented (Chen & Reese, 2015).
Second, lawmakers who are serious about data privacy need to challenge the received wisdom that
individuals are or can be whatBaruh and Popescu (2017) called the “locus ofprivacy decision” (p. 585).
Privacy ought to be treated as an inalienable right rather than a market commodity that individuals can
trade for data-oriented services or conveniences. Moreover, those who provide such services—govern-
ments and corporations—ought to be made responsible for violations of privacy rights. These could be
the first steps toward changing the governmental and corporate tendency to view data and technology
services as instruments of surveillance and a means to expand their social control.
This study has been critical of the news media’s role as data intermediaries and identified how
institutional and ideological linkages with governments and corporations make the media complicit
in the exploitation of citizens’ personal data. At the same time, we acknowledge that news framing is
a social process in which multiple stakeholders can play a role. Therefore, a third implication of our
study is that the news media—as data intermediaries—can also serve as allies in both top-down and
bottoms-up efforts to defend data privacy. This, however, would not happen on its own. Concerned
lawmakers and civil society groups need to productively engage with journalists and news organi-
zations—for instance, by creating “events” that can serve as news pegs for privacy-related media
coverage or by serving as sources of information for articles related to Big Data projects.
One of the strengths of our study—its broad geographical and temporal scope—is also its
weakness. While enabling us to find common patterns of media coverage about Big Data projects
across two very different media and political systems over time, our research design also prohibits us
from delving too deeply into the analysis of any particular moment or topic. Future research may
therefore study the more interesting topics or time periods that have emerged from our analysis in
Shahin and Zheng 37
greater detail. For instance, the association of privacy and politics in Indian media coverage in 2014
merits closer attention. So does the Chinese media’s misappropriation of the subprime crisis in 2008
to make the case for SCS. In addition, as governments across the Global South continue to launch
“national” data or digitization projects, we hope that future research would expand the scope of our
analysis by testing the relevance of our findings in new contexts.
Authors’ Note
Both authors contributed equally to the writing of this article. Indian and Chinese news samples analyzed in this
article are publicly accessible through the Nexis Uni and Huike databases, respectively.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publica-
tion of this article.
Funding
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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Author Biographies
Saif Shahin (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) is an assistant professor in communication studies at the
American University, Washington, DC. His research focuses on critical data studies, social media studies, and
global media and politics. His articles have been featured in journals such as Information, Communication, &
Society; The International Journal of Press/Politics; and Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly.He
can be reached on shahin@american.edu.
Pei Zheng (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) is an assistant professor of journalism at Ithaca College, New
York. Her research focuses on computation, Big Data, and social media studies. Her articles have been featured
in journals such as New Media & Society; Journal of Communication; and Information, Communication, &
Society. She can be reached on pei.cindy.zheng@gmail.com.
Shahin and Zheng 41
... Three annotators went through a set of 100 articles from each policy event, and agreed on these five constituencies as they dominantly represent the audience or the people towards whom the mass media presents information about the events, although there can be many other constituencies that are covered by mass media pertaining to other policies. The presence of these constituencies in the Indian media narrative of these policies is also corroborated by earlier papers [16,20,58]. News-sources may present policy events through different frames, by dominantly supporting or opposing the cause of these constituencies in their articles. ...
... Three annotators went through a set of 100 articles from each policy event, and agreed on these five constituencies as they dominantly represent the audience or the people towards whom the mass media presents information about the events, although there can be many other constituencies that are covered by mass media pertaining to other policies. The presence of these constituencies in the Indian media narrative of these policies is also corroborated by earlier papers [16,20,58]. News-sources may present policy events through different frames, by dominantly supporting or opposing the cause of these constituencies in their articles. ...
... Furthermore, although papers in two special issues of the American Behavioral Scientist (Volume 63, Issue 5 and 6, 2019) and a special issue of Social Science Computer Review (Volume 38, Issue 1, 2020) provide useful perspectives on the ethical issues of SSR 3 , only one of these contributions uses a normative framework to provide a systematic analysis of ethical issues. These papers discuss big data's impact on social interpretations and context (Camfield, 2019;Feldman & Shaw, 2019;Frey et al., 2020;Hesse et al., 2019), data representativeness (Hargittai, 2020), data accuracy and inclusiveness (Popham et al., 2020), data sharing and replicability (Mannheimer et al., 2019;Sterett, 2019), press and personal freedom (Shahin & Zheng, 2020) as well as issues related to the prioritization of big data as a source and the impact of big data tools on research questions and results (Hesse et al., 2019;Mauthner 2019). ...
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This paper analyzes the ethics of social science research (SSR) employing big data. We begin by highlighting the research gap found on the intersection between big data ethics, SSR and research ethics. We then discuss three aspects of big data SSR which make it warrant special attention from a research ethics angle: (1) the interpretative character of both SSR and big data, (2) complexities of anticipating and managing risks in publication and reuse of big data SSR, and (3) the paucity of regulatory oversight and ethical recommendations on protecting individual subjects as well as societies when conducting big data SSR. Against this backdrop, we propose using David Resnik’s research ethics framework to analyze some of the most pressing ethical issues of big data SSR. Focusing on the principles of honesty, carefulness, openness, efficiency, respect for subjects, and social responsibility, we discuss three clusters of ethical issues: those related to methodological biases and personal prejudices, those connected to risks arising from data availability and reuse, and those leading to individual and social harms. Finally, we advance considerations to observe in developing future ethical guidelines about big data SSR.
... In the EU, the area of privacy has recently been marked by the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR),1 directly applicable in all Member States since May 2018. In China, social surveillance is being enforced through what is known as the social credit system (Chen and Cheung, 2017;Dai, 2018;Mistreanu, 2018;Wong and Dobson, 2019;Ding, and Zhong, 2020;Shahin and Zheng, 2020). Quite clearly, the EU and China take the opposite stance in such regard, the former building on the restriction of interference -whether by public authorities or private actors -with people's privacy, while the latter governs the society through government interference with individuals' privacy. ...
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Purpose: The primary objective of the present research is to identify the basic tools and restrictions concerning the protection of privacy and personal data in the EU and China as two fundamentally different cultural systems. Based on the socio-cultural analysis of backgrounds, trends and expert assessments, the research aims to examine whether privacy protection standards, such as those provided by the GDPR in the EU, are sufficiently robust to endure the digital age. Two different cultural frameworks have been analysed in order to understand their influence on practical behaviours regarding the democratic safeguards in privacy rights enforcement in the EU compared with China. This is accomplished by comparing social control in the EU and the social credit system in China. Design/Methodology/Approach: Considering the administrative context , a combined qualitative approach is applied, including normative and dogmatic methods, literature analysis, sociological and historical methods , expert interviews, and comparative and axiological methods. Findings: The results of both theoretical and empirical parts of the research suggest that the stricter regulation in the EU compared to China-in the sense of more consistent protection of privacy and personal data as well as transparency rights-can be attributed to its democratic protection of human rights and more definitive regulations, particularly the GDPR. These major differences seem to create an even deeper gap in the future, to be explored scientifically and in practice. The authors conclude that authorities must actively guarantee the rights related to privacy and personal data protection, or else effective governance will lead to a surveillance society and erosion of individuals' freedom as a valuable civili-zational asset. Academic contribution to the field: The research contributes to administrative science by addressing one of the key concepts of modern public governance, namely the collision between the principles of effectiveness and transparency on the one hand and privacy on the other. The use of scientific methods paves the way for further comparisons. Practical Implications: The article provides a concise overview of the relevant literature and an analysis of the rules that underpin the implementation , evaluation and improvement of regulations, especially in the light of ICT development, e.g. in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Originality/Value: The paper bridges the gap created by the differences in the understanding of privacy and public governance in the field in the EU and China based on cultural differences. The usual general or merely law-or technology-based analyses are upgraded with a combination of various research methods.
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China’s Social Credit System (SCS) has been widely considered a centralized surveillance project, whereas recent research found multiple scoring systems co-existing in various fields at multiple administrative levels and in diverse forms. Despite the broadened view toward the complexity of SCS, these research projects continue to focus on SCS mainly as political and digital control mechanisms. Instead, this paper is interested in the social and cultural meanings of SCS constructed in the media, both at the national and local levels. Based on the analyses of news reports since the year 2003, when the term SCS was officially coined, this paper examines the historical narratives about SCS, including its rationales, stakeholders, and intended goals/tasks. It argues that the SCS construction has been a societal project anchored in a distinct moral orientation of financial credit. While credit systems are often used to classify consumers and financial subjects in Western contexts, the case of Chinese SCS shows that the moral dimension of financial credit scoring has enabled its spread into other non-financial domains. Also, the institutionalization of such moral standards is considered an effective approach to addressing various socio-economic and ethical issues that have long baffled economic development and social justice in China’s reform era.
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Everyday administrative practices are relatively understudied in research on illiberalism and authoritarianism. This article addresses this gap to account for the neoliberalist and technopopulistic motivations that support illiberal and authoritarian practices in a weak rule of law context. Using narrative analysis, it interprets the role of beliefs and desires of politico-administrative actors in facilitating such actions in the context of India’s public sector digitalisation. This article elaborates how the instrumental rationalities embedded into the design of digitalised policies and their practices at various levels of analysis can erode voluntariness and privacy as well as undercut democratic accountability. This article makes a case for recentering the democratic ethos in designing and implementing digitalised policy regimes to ensure everyday administrative practices are aligned with the need to avoid the infringement of individual freedoms and democratic accountability.
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Le développement et l'usage des Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication (TIC) enAfrique ont considérablement progressé au cours des deux dernières décennies, et alimentent une littérature très féconde. Dans cet article, nous identifions les effets et les canaux robustes par lesquels les TIC améliorent la Mobilisation des Recettes Fiscales (MRF). À partir d'un échantillonde 54 pays, nous spécifions et estimons un modèle en données de panel par la méthode des Moindres Carrés Généralisés (MCG) sur la période 1996‐2019. Nos résultats montrent que l'usage des TIC (mesuré par les pénétrations d'internet, du téléphone mobile, du téléphone fixe et de la fibre optique) stimule significativement la MRF. Leurs effets transitent par le développement financier, l'ouverture commerciale, l'énergie et le capital humain. Nous suggérons un‐renforcement des infrastructures de télécommunications et des canaux de transmission pour une meilleure dématérialisation des procédures fiscales et une plus grande mobilisation des recettes.
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Is the convergence of new technologies and an authoritarian state bound to create an all-encompassing surveillance system? Is this happening in China with the Social Credit System (shehui xinyong tixi, abb. SCS)? Grounded in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), this article aims to describe the nature of the project by focusing on its inception and retracing how the initial visions materialized into the system that is now in place. It will do so by seeking to identify the sociotechnical imaginaries rooted in the SCS with the premise that these imaginaries, in particular the ones proposed by authoritative actors, shape the development trajectory of the SCS. Next, it asks whether the dominant sociotechnical imaginaries are control and power legitimation. By touching upon the role of officials, academics, private companies, and citizens in negotiating what is practicable and what is desirable, this article argues that the SCS does not follow a determined trajectory toward technologically enabled dictatorship. It is the result of a process that Sheila Jasanoff has described as co-production, as the various actors embed their values into the project by imagining, engineering, using or even rejecting elements of the SCS. This article finds that before even knowing all the possibilities offered by new technologies, a certain future was envisioned and shared. Rather than the need for control and surveillance, actors emphasized the importance of trustworthiness, the advancement of a post-industrial society, quality of life, and a sense of community. In a certain way, technology was expected to offer a solution to most, if not all social problems. The room left for experimentation supports the argument that sociotechnical imaginaries have the potential to impact the development trajectory of the SCS project. The article concludes that, after more than 20 years since its inception, the SCS is still a policy under construction, whose interpretation and use is yet to be stabilized.
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This study investigates the effect of natural resource rents and information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure on the size of the informal economy in Sub-Saharan African countries. It does so by using different measures of the informal economy, resources rents, and ICT and employs pooled OLS and IV-2SLS estimators to estimate two-way fixed effects models. The study covers 42 countries and spans the period 1991-2015. The results reveal that while natural resources rents increase the size of the informal economy, ICT has a mixed direct effect on the informal economy. More interestingly, the results reveal that resource rents reduce the size of the informal economy in countries with higher accessibility to ICT. African states need to ensure transparent management of natural resources revenues but also use these revenues to increase public spending to support growth and diversification to create more jobs in the formal sector. They should also invest more in ICT infrastructure to help mobilize domestic resources.
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This study presents a comparison of themes found in the U.S. and South Korean news coverage of the Paralympics. It is commonplace to associate rugged individualism with the former country and collectivism with the latter, and we assumed that these national traits would be apparent in the news coverage of the Paralympic Games in the two countries. Using the keyword “Paralympics,” we searched two decades of newspaper coverage and performed latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) topic modeling on the articles that the search produced. The results of the modeling confirmed that the reporting in each country reflected its national characteristics, with the U.S. coverage reinforcing ableism and the South Korean coverage focusing on the government’s efforts to promote large-scale sporting events. The news stories in both countries were alike, though, in treating disabled athletes and traditional athletes differently. Part of the contribution of this research to the academic study of disabled athletes is the use of computational textual analysis to address these issues.
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It is important that digital biometric identity systems be used by governments with a Do no Harm mandate, and the establishment of regulatory, enforcement and restorative frameworks ensuring data protection and privacy needs to transpire prior to the implementation of technological programs and services. However, when, and where large government bureaucracies are involved, the proper planning and execution of public service programs very often result in ungainly outcomes, and are often qualitatively not guaranteeable. Several important factors, such as the strength of the political and legal systems, may affect such cases as the implementation of a national digital identity system. Digital identity policy development, as well as technical deployment of biometric technologies and enrollment processes, may all differ markedly, and could depend in some part at least, on the overall economic development of the country in question, or political jurisdiction, among other factors. This article focuses on the Republic of India’s national digital biometric identity system, the Aadhaar, for its development, data protection and privacy policies, and impact. Two additional political jurisdictions, the European Union, and the United States are also situationally analyzed as they may be germane to data protection and privacy policies originated to safeguard biometric identities. Since biometrics are foundational elements in modern digital identity systems, expression of data protection policies that orient and direct how biometrics are to be utilized as unique identifiers are the focus of this analysis. As more of the world’s economies create and elaborate capacities, capabilities and functionalities within their respective digital ambits, it is not enough to simply install suitable digital identity technologies; much, much more - is durably required. For example, both vigorous and descriptive means of data protection should be well situated within any jurisdictionally relevant deployment area, prior to in-field deployment of digital identity technologies. Toxic mixes of knowledge insufficiencies, institutional naïveté, political tomfoolery, cloddish logical constructs, and bureaucratic expediency must never overrun fundamental protections for human autonomy, civil liberties, data protection, and privacy.
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Government officials claim open data can improve internal and external communication and collaboration. These promises hinge on “data intermediaries”: extra-institutional actors that obtain, use, and translate data for the public. However, we know little about why these individuals might regard open data as a site of civic participation. In response, we draw on Ilana Gershon to conceptualize culturally situated and socially constructed perspectives on data, or “data ideologies.” This study employs mixed methodologies to examine why members of the public hold particular data ideologies and how they vary. In late 2015 the authors engaged the public through a commission in a diverse city of approximately 500,000. Qualitative data was collected from three public focus groups with residents. Simultaneously, we obtained quantitative data from surveys. Participants’ data ideologies varied based on how they perceived data to be useful for collaboration, tasks, and translations. Bucking the “geek” stereotype, only a minority of those surveyed (20%) were professional software developers or engineers. Although only a nascent movement, we argue open data intermediaries have important roles to play in a new political landscape.
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There is a growing literature on teenage and young adult users' attitudes toward and concerns about online privacy, yet little is known about older adults and their unique experiences. As older adults join the digital world in growing numbers, we need to gain a better understanding of how they experience and navigate online privacy. This paper fills this research gap by examining 40 in-depth interviews with older adults (65 and older) living in East York, Toronto. We found Westin's typology to be a useful starting point for understanding privacy attitudes and concerns in this demographic. We expand Westin's typology and distinguish five categories: fundamentalist, intense pragmatist, relaxed pragmatist, marginally concerned, and cynical expert. We find that older adults are not a homogenous group composed of privacy fundamentalists; rather, there is considerable variability in terms of their privacy attitudes, with only 13 per cent being fundamentalists. We also identify a group of cynical experts who believe that online privacy breaches are inevitable. A large majority of older adults are marginally concerned, as they see their online participation as limited and harmless. Older adults were also grouped as either intense or relaxed pragmatists. We find that some privacy concerns are shared by older adults across several categories, the most common being spam, unauthorized access to personal information, and information misuse. We discuss theoretical implications based on the findings for our understanding of privacy in the context of older adults' digital lives and discuss implications for offering training appropriate for enhancing privacy literacy in this age group.
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This study traces how Facebook-promoted internet.org/Free Basics, despite initial acclaim, was eventually rejected in India – and how net neutrality came to be codified in the process. Topic modeling of articles (N=1,752) published over two-and-a-half years in 100 media outlets pinpoints the critical junctures in time at which the public discourse changed its trajectory. Critical discourse analysis of different phases of the discourse then identifies the causal factors and contingent conditions that produced the new policy. The study advances the understanding of technologies as social constructs and technological change as a social process, shaped by the dynamic interaction of a complex array of social actors coming together at critical junctures. It also draws attention to how discourse, produced by social actors in contingent conditions, recursively shapes the dominant ideology and structures these interactions. In addition, the study demonstrates how algorithmic and interpretive research techniques can be combined for longitudinal analysis of textual data sets.