‘Smart selfies’ the key to home isolation

The apps will let health authorities confirm your identity and location, but could they be fooled by ‘GPS spoofing’?

By David Flynn, September 30 2021
‘Smart selfies’ the key to home isolation

Australia's move away from hotel quarantine in favour of home isolation will rely on ‘smart selfies’ to ensure people are actually hunkered down at home rather than sinking a pint at the pub or lazing on the beach.

The customised smartphone apps combine facial recognition technology with GPS-based ‘location awareness’ to confirm the person’s identity and location at any given time.

The apps will also provide people with a testing schedule and symptom checker to monitor their health for symptoms of Covid.

Australia’s National Cabinet recently agreed on the use of facial recognition and geolocation technology to assist with home quarantine trials.

NSW begins seven-day home isolation trial

NSW will include the app in its home quarantine trials, which are expected to begin next week as a pilot program for 175 fully-vaccinated travellers, with there group expected to include some NSW residents and Qantas air crew alongside non-Australian residents.

They’ll be subject to seven days of home-based isolation, and each participant will use a smartphone app based on the Home Quarantine SA app developed for South Australia’s own pilot program last month.

At random times during the day, the app makes an automatic request for a response from the user, who then has 15 minutes to check in by taking a selfie, which is sent back along with precise GPS coordinates to prove they’re where they should be.

Random in-person police checks will also be conducted, with stiff penalties for individuals who breach the conditions of their isolation.

“NSW has quarantined over 245,000 travellers throughout this pandemic, by far the most of any jurisdiction in the country and this pilot will lay the foundations for us to reunite even more families and friends who are fully vaccinated,” says NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“Hotel quarantine has been an important line of defence throughout this pandemic but as we move towards our vaccination targets, we have to look at new ways of doing things.”

Also read: NSW to phase out hotel quarantine, move to home isolation

In Victoria, you’ll have five minutes to send a selfie

A similar trial of home quarantine is now underway in Victoria, although the window for responding is only five minutes.

“Participants will receive advice via the smartphone as to their obligation at random times to provide a selfie back to the public health teams,” explains Health Minister Martin Foley.

“Should that not be responded to in a period of time, follow-up calls or visits are made so as to make sure that the person is where they should be.”

It remains to be seen if any of these apps can be fooled by the use of ‘GPS spoofing’ technology, which can mask a smartphone’s location with a counterfeit GPS signal representing a different location.

GPS spoofing was popularised by the Pokemon Go craze of 2016, with players of the smartphone-based game using specialised apps to make it seem they were at a location with plenty of Pokemon characters – including rare catches – while they actually remained curled up on the couch at home.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 May 2018

Total posts 43

This is all well and good... but there must be ONE SYSTEM, common to all states. Already we are seeing the SA system, it then appears (from above) the NSW has largely copied it, but Vic had different requirements.. and I expect the Qld and WA will have to have their own system if they ever open up to O/S returnees .In short ONE COUNTRY - ONE SYSTEM!  

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 339

If each state has their own home quarantine requirements I can see why each state would want their own app, but I would much rather have one national app which then applies different home quarantine criteria based on your state. Surely that's also a much better use of tax dollars then developing a half-dozen apps!

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 307

WA have used the "take a selfie in the same spot in the house" approach for home quarantine (parents subjected to it a couple of months ago after burying my grandmother). They were given approx 5 min to send the photo through and, occasionally, were asked to do it twice within a short period of time (approx 20 min apart).

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 339

Sorry to hear about your grandmother. Five minutes is NOT a lot of time, is it? You could be in the shower or exercising at home or in the yard, mowing the lawn, all sorts of reasons. Interesting that they sometimes had to do this twice in a short period, I think that's smart because I can imagine some people being pinged and then thinking 'Well that's it, they won't ping me again for a while so I'll just head to the pub for a quickie!'.

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 307

Thanks for your condolences.  At other times it was less I believe.  Suffice to say that, yes, there were a few inconveniently timed message arrivals during the two weeks. I agree that the multiple times is to catch people out.  

After all of that I'd rather be quarantining in our own home as opposed to a hotel room.

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 171

As an Aussie abroad in the UK I can't wait to get home to visit my family.  I have a ticket booked for Christmas.  Fingers crossed.

This selfie/GPS system sounds great.  There's some detail that I hope will be revealed soon though.

1) Sleep!  I'm assuming that the app won't randomly check in on you at 3am.  But, with jetlag, that's often the time i'm wide awake for my first few days back in OZ and can often be found sound asleep at 3PM.

2) Other members of the household.  It's obviously beyond pointless if an international arrival can quarantine at home with other family members having direct contact with the traveller and then going out into the community.

Excited about this step forward though.

25 Mar 2021

Total posts 12

NZ's upcoming trial is quite clear that it is self isolation or isolation with travel companions. So people will need a separate location away from family members. And guessing they are also ruling out apartments buildings and the like due to A/C and not being fully isolated from people.

25 Mar 2021

Total posts 12

With Android phones mock locations are as easy as dev mode settings (dev mode in settings, completely unrelated to rooting) and enabling mock locations.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2012

Total posts 209

If, for example, your incoming flight arrives in Sydney but your home is in regional NSW or another capital city, how will home quarantine work? Is a domestic connecting flight to get home permitted?

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1021

I would absolutely HATE being forced to take a "selfie". I NEVER take photos of myself. I actively AVOID being in photos, or looking at mirrors for that matter.

I'd rather destroy the cameras on my phone before I used them to look at myself. I hate this ugly disgusting mistake of a body and have no desire to see it. They can come up with some other way that doesn't require selfies, or assuming that everyone always has working smart phones.

25 Mar 2021

Total posts 12

Yep the alternative is hotel based isolation

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2546

Himeno, I'm truly sorry you feel that way about yourself. For what it's worth, I'm also not a fan of my own selfies! But I'm sure you can appreciate that the photo is needed as proof that the person responding to the 'ping' from this app is the person meant to be in home quarantine, and not a partner, parent, sibling, flat-mate or whatever, while the person who should be at home is out and about. I suspect that if somebody simply doesn't want to use the app, they'll be directed into hotel quarantine on arrival, or if they head home and don't send selfies back, they could very well end up copping a series of fines and worse.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1021

So you'd rather cause mental health damage to someone?

I would have no problem with wearing a GPS locator tag for any needed period of home isolation, as has been done in other countries without issue throughout the pandemic.

Find a way to get rid of the Y chromosome, and any related physical appearance, and we'll see about "selfies".

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2546

"So you'd rather cause mental health damage to someone?" – I didn't say anything of the sort.

Your suggestion of a GPS tracker is a good alternative to a selfie-based app, although I'm unsure how many people would feel comfortable with that bracelet or anklet given its association with a home detention sentence – but hey, home quarantine is sort of the same thing when we get down to it.


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