Ed’s note: Facial recognition causing headaches in Australia


A story from Australia made me look twice and then… again. The headline in the Sydney Morning Herald read: “Smart Energy Council calls for State to abandon facial recognition.” I had to know more…

It seems that in order for consumers to claim their solar rebates, the government of Victoria requires confirmed identification through facial recognition. 

This is great! This is what technology is meant for. This is an interesting and surely secure method of identification, right? Yes, in theory – if the technology works. And therein lies the rub.

However, just short of 50% of the attempted facial recognition checks have failed since the launch of the programme two weeks ago.

For me, this raises some questions:

  • Surely, one of the main reasons behind moves within the energy sector to be more customer-centric means adapting to the fact that not all customers are equally technologically adept?
  • How secure are the system and the data stored therein?
  • What are the privacy implications?
  • In our pursuit to be recognised as technological leaders, do we get ahead of ourselves and the technology?
  • Is far too much being made of this ‘glitch’ which may well become an example for governments and various social programmes around the world?

Before you answer, here’s some background:

The system requires applicants to scan their face, passport and driver’s license using their smartphone. If successful, an ‘electronic identity credential’ is generated and linked to their smartphone. In order for them to verify their identity in future, an SMS is sent to their number.

According to John Grimes, chief executive of the Smart Energy Council, it is now harder than ever before to apply for a solar installation.

“We’ve spoken to many solar installers with [stories of] customers simply unable to use the application, or of it not working. There’s also concern around who now has this data and how it will be used in the future,” Grimes said.

Challenges include:

  • One applicant reported that she could not wear her glasses as her official identify photograph was ‘glasses-free’. Yet, without her glasses, she said she was unable to follow the onscreen instructions.
  • Older people battle with the online system finding it hard to understand the instructions and in some cases are afraid of the technology.

To add to the pressure, applicants are given 14 days to complete their registration, or they could lose their spot on the waiting list.

It has been reported that the system was launched as a ‘public beta’ programme, yet had been tested on less than 60 people before going live.

Solar programmes in Victoria are under pressure already for a number of reasons. In April, the Victorian solar panel rebate was suddenly paused due to the programme for 2018/19 being fully subscribed. The programme started up again on 1 July – but with a decision to only accept 3,333 applications a month – despite the fact that the demand far exceeds this number. 

“With the solar rebate scheme’s failure, the industry is being brought to its knees, including job losses and businesses about to close. This terrible software is really the icing on the cake,” Grimes says,

“Why are people who want a solar rebate being used as guinea pigs to test a broken system?”

Yet, Solar Victoria is adamant that it will continue using the facial recognition software, stating the “not using facial confirmation means it could take two weeks to process each application.”

Now that you have a clearer story, we’d love to hear what you think. Share your thoughts with us at editorial@smart-energy.com

Until next time!