In line with recommendations being laid out by the World Economic Forum and the UN 2030 Agenda, Bologna, Italy, plans to launch a social credit style app that has striking similarities with Communist China’s social credit system. The app rewards or punishes its citizens for their behavior. Dubbed “Smart Citizen Wallet,” the app will track activities such as recycling, public transportation use, and energy management.

The primary argument for the program is to “save resources” and promote climate-friendly behavior. Those displaying good behavior will collect digital coins and receive discounts at local shops based on the given scores.

The app is already active and in experimental stages in Rome and is set to go live in Bologna in the fall. Bologna Mayor Matteo Lepore and Massimo Bugani, director of the city’s “Digital Agenda,” discussed the project at a March 29 conference. Bugani indicated the app was part of a more comprehensive effort by the city to invest in digital innovation. 

In 2020, Italy and six other nations signed an agreement to become “Agile Nations” in partnership with the WEF. Besides Italy, the deal—co-organized by the OECDincludes Canada, Denmark, Japan, Singapore, UAE, and the UK and sets “each country’s commitment to creating a regulatory environment in which new ideas can thrive.” Expressly—with the Fourth Industrial Revolution front and center—OEDC declared:

“The agreement “paves the way for these nations to cooperate in helping innovators navigate each country’s rules, test new ideas with regulators, and scale them across the seven markets. Priority areas for cooperation include the green economy, mobility, data, financial and professional services, and medical diagnosis and treatment.” 

According to Bugani, the app can be seen as an investment toward the digital renewal of Bologna. “It is like getting a “new sewer system,” Bugani reasoned, adding that more and more services will become digital in Italy in the coming years. The local newspaper, Corriere di Bologna, compared the app to collecting points from grocery stores. 

Acknowledging real problems in the credit system, some ItalianFrench, and German journalists, writers, and bloggers have noted that the app’s premise is strikingly similar to China’s draconian social credit system, which compensates citizens based on a point system. 

Indeed, many share concerns surrounding the misuse of such a complex system, which can lead to numerous problems, such as severe restrictions that could violate the rights and freedoms of citizens, not to mention the bias that the very operation of such a system presents. Italian Research Group Privacy Network also recognized issues with the credit system, stating on its website

“These practices, if poorly developed or used, can lead to serious limitations on, and violations of, citizens’ rights and freedoms, as well as discriminatory practices, which are also achieved through technological means, such as ‘social credit’ systems (or social scoring).

Our concern is increased by the fact that similar systems have already been introduced in other Italian cities as well; first of all, in Rome, where the Smart Citizen Wallet is already being tested.”

Interestingly, Salesforce announced last month that the Municipality of Rome picked the company to create an Integrated Citizen Relationship Management platform. Salesforce Chair and CEO Mark Benioff sits on the Board of Trustees at the WEF. The announcement explains further:

Salesforce, the global leader in CRM, today announced that the Municipality of Rome has chosen Salesforce to create an Integrated Citizen Relationship Management platform.  

By bringing together Rome Municipality’s 15 city halls and many public administration services, the platform will help the Municipality build a digital-first, human-centric relationship with its three million citizens.

Leveraging Salesforce Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud will deliver omni-channel self-service capabilities, seamless collaboration between local government departments, and empower citizens to receive the information they need faster through AI-powered chatbots.

The launch of the MyRhome platform is another step on the Municipality’s path to creating a “smart city” — an ecosystem of public and private stakeholders serving citizens wherever they are.

Many citizens in Europe are concerned that, as the COVID-19 pandemic set the stage for restrictive measures and now climate change is front and center, will Europe be the first region to track (and control) its people digitally? After all, given the increasing interest by the EU and its agreement with the WEF, some fear it is only a matter of time before more regions and nations will execute similar strategies to solve “social issues.” 

Germany and Austria (ID Austria) have already accelerated their digital ID projects. Both countries are introducing new platforms to integrate more public services and IDs, digitize mail, and even national passports. 

While participation is not mandatory in Bologna’s app, Bugnani feels confident many people will want to participate. He commented, “Obviously, no one will be forced to participate,” adding, “Those who want to will be able to give consent when downloading and using the app.” He went on to say:

“We want to make them understand that they are not ‘losers,’ but that their behavior is rewarded.” 

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