Comparing Citizen Attitudes Across Three Major Digital Technologies
Authoritarian regimes are found to embrace digital technologies for information collection, governance, as well as social control and surveillance. Recent studies suggest citizens in authoritarian regimes may accept or even support digital surveillance. Using a unique online survey dataset and qualitative research on public opinion on digital technologies in China, we show that these findings overlooked a small yet important group of digital technology doubters. We study Chinese citizens’ attitudes towards three major digital technologies in China: Facial Recognition Technology (FRT), Contact Tracing Apps (CTA) and Social Credit System (SCS). We find that (1) one out of five citizens belong to the group of “digital doubters”; (2) younger citizens with low-income level and non-CCP members are more likely to not accept digital technologies; and (3) there is generally higher acceptance for CTA and SCS over FRT technologies. The results show that digital technology in authoritarian states cannot be reduced to an automatic welcome or acquiesce but needs further careful disaggregation, which is highly correlated with citizens social-economic background.