Money2020, the largest finance tradeshow in the world, takes place each year in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. At a recent gathering, above the din of slot machines on the casino floor downstairs, cryptocurrency startups pitched their latest coin offerings, while on the main stage, PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman made an impassioned speech to thousands about the globe’s working poor and their need for access to banking and credit.

The future, according to PayPal and many other companies, is algorithmic credit scoring, where payments and social media data coupled to machine learning will make lending decisions that another enthusiast argues are “better at picking people than people could ever be.” Credit in China is now in the hands of a company called Alipay, which uses thousands of consumer data points—including what they purchase, what type of phone they use, what augmented reality games they play, and their friends on social media—to determine a credit score. In a culture where the elderly casually pull out their phones to pay for groceries and even the homeless don QR codes to accept donations, there’s plenty of data to draw on.

And while the credit score can dictate the terms of a loan, it also acts as a proxy for general good character. In China, having a high credit rank can help your chances of accessing employment, for example, or of getting a visa to travel within Europe, and even finding a partner via online dating.

One Chinese dating site,, offers greater visibility to users with high credit scores. And all of it is dictated by the algorithm.

 In China, having a high credit rank can help your chances of accessing employment, for example, or of getting a visa to travel. The decisions made by algorithmic credit scoring applications are not only said to be more accurate in predicting risk than traditional scoring methods; its champions argue they are also fairer because the algorithm is unswayed by the racial, gender, and socioeconomic biases that have skewed access to credit in the past. It might not be clear why playing video games, owning an Android phone, and having 400 Facebook friends can help to determine whether or not a loan application is successful, but a decade after the financial crisis, the logic goes, we need to trust that the numbers don’t lie. Read more from…

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