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Studies in Ideological Education, a Chinese education ministry publication, has published a report with a proposal to track individual university students’ political views using Big Data. The report, authored by a sitting member of the propaganda department committee at the University of Electronic Science and Technology in Chengdu, suggests the creation of a dedicated “political ideology database,” based on a diverse set of data. “Quantifiable, accurate, and personalized” information for the database is to be pulled from library records, surveys, social media, and a variety of other sources. Big Data analysis will then be used to create profiles of individual students in order to “improve the effectiveness of ideological education.”
“Collecting and analyzing data on ideological behavior,” the report says, “can reveal trends in students’ thinking and values, as well as the social issues they are paying attention to.” The value of Big Data is clear and was not lost on the author of the report, who derides outmoded ways of analysis that relies on “flawed logic of experience and intuition,” according to the report.
The report doesn’t detail what precisely should the government do with the resulting data, but criticises the current state of the technology in China. “There is a severe lack of big data knowhow,” it says.
The suggestion is certainly worrying, as personal freedoms are already severely curtailed in the People’s Republic. The report says that the collection of data should be done “within the scope of the law,” but in the authoritarian regime the scope of the law is matter open for interpretation.