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Enabling new Google photo face and people search in UK, Europe, Germany

June 02, 2015

gp_logo.pngGoogle Photos was re-launched recently during a slick presentation at Google I/O 2015.

Besides the unlimited storage for 16MP photos and 1080p videos what caught my interest the most was the demo of the face and people search.

The new product was not only able associate photos of the same person, it was also able to do it across a large age span of the person.

google_photos_people_face_searchSome reported examples are "it associated photos of my niece starting with her current age of 6 years and all the way back to 3 months old" and "it was able to discern our twin daughters".

So imagine my disappointment after upgrading to this latest Google Photos version, backing up my entire photo catalog (30,000+ 16MP photos) and not being able to find the face/people search.

I suspected some European or UK privacy laws being the root cause why Google hasn't enabled it in the UK and a few searches later my suspicion was confirmed.

Since it seemed to be geographically restricted I was curious to see what would happen if I tried the application from another location.

Virtual Private Networks, a.k.a. VPN, are very handy to make your internet traffic to appear from a different location than you are.

All your traffic is tunneled to an exit point of your choosing, for example a data center in New York City. To Google Photos service you then seem to be located in New York City, USA.

tunnelbear.jpgOne such easy to use VPN service for android is Tunnelbear but there are many others. Tunnelbear offers 500 MB of free traffic and you don't need much more than 20MB to get this set-up.

It worked, I got face/people search in my Goole Photos android app and this is how I did it:

In summary you want to delete the Google Photos application data and re-start the application while being connected to the VPN. This will trick Google Photos into believing you are located in US and the feature will be switched on.

Once the feature is switched on you don't have to re-connect to the VPN; the feature will remain on!

Detailed instructions: delete the data from Google Photos, turn on airplane mode, turn off location services, connect via Tunnelbear, start up Google photos, go through the introductory 4 steps, go into settings and turn on "Group Similar Faces". Success, you now have your photos organised by many, many different people present in them.

The face categorisation appeared as soon as I connected via VPN. There was no initial time for google to build up a face database for my photos.

This really seems to suggest that all photos added to Google Photos are categorised by face. The search feature is just hidden in certain geographical locations to comply with local laws.

Is this really in the spirit of the law or just cheat? You decide!

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  1. Sergiy Says:

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    thanx for instructions, however can't delete photos app
    how i can do it?

    Uninstall /David
  2. Sergiy Says:

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    deleted the data through settings, run tunnelbear, but it didnt suggested me the face recognition (

    Have you enabled "Group Similar Faces" in the settings? /David
  3. jw Says:

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    Nice one, worked for me. Thanks.

  4. Gustav Says:

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    Your procedure for enabling the face grouping on my mobile phone worked. Very much too my surprise when I then visited photos.google.com on my desktop, there too the people search had been enabled. Even more surprising though: the desktop version uses different face groups. Where on the mobile phone for example there were two groups for my daughter at different ages, there was only one on the desktop. Instead the desktop version has two groups for someone else. How can it be that Google is using different face groupings for mobile and for desktop?

  5. Hugh Saunders Says:

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    I used a vpn to enable Google photos face recognition on an iPhone in the UK. I'm now having failures syncing photos to google photos, not sure if these failures are linked to the face recognition trick. Anyone else seen sync failures after using the vpn trick?

  6. Mike Says:

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    Worked for me on iPhone. Only problem is, there are only groups created 6 people and I want to do more. The help says there should be a ''more" button, but this only appears for places and things and not people. Anyone else have this problem?

  7. Archy Says:

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    This workaround works perfectly on iOS!! No issues whatsoever.. You don't need to uninstall the App, just log out, activate VPN and log back in.

  8. Lukasz Says:

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    Could someone check if when you turn off facial recognition, this option not disappears and you can turn it on again without a VPN connection? Thanks :-)

  9. Venelin Says:

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    Hi, I did this trick twice, but I'm only getting the toggle "Group by similar faces". Then when I hit search icon People section is not there. Any idea why? Thank

  10. Scroller Says:

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    Decide what? The law here is to protect me and my privacy. If I decide I want to reveal this to google I should have no issues with this.
    Why doesn't EU or our local legislation authorities deal with real problems instead of playing nanny state.
    Bah, maybe we in Eastern Europe have a different view of civil liberties. Good article nevertheless.

  11. Jack Says:

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    Anyone manage to get this working recently?
    Doesn't work for me using my iPhone :-(

    A friend used it on Android a month ago. Haven't seen anything more recent...
  12. Koen Says:

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    This trick will not work if you have your home location set in your google account. After removing my home location from google maps it works!

  13. joseph Says:

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    Just did it on Android, worked like a charm! ;)
    Even on the web it's now enabled ;)

  14. SteveG Says:

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    Worked for me on iPhone. As said above, just remove your account in Google Photos first, then start up VPN, then sign back in to Google Photos and it works. Tells you face recognition can be switched off in settings if you wish to do so.

    Then turn VPN off obviously! :)

  15. maxnpeps Says:

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    Just come across this useful note. Something simple is not clear to me though. What exactly does 'delete the data from Google Photos' mean. Delete all images currently on google photo app on iPhone? or on google web site as well? Is there a simple way to do this? Just want to do it correctly before following rest of instructions

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