How to enable Google Photos’ facial recognition

With free unlimited storage, automatic backups and decent editing effects, Google Photos is arguably the best photo management service available at the moment. It also does a great job of organising your media online, especially with facial recognition which picks out photos that include the same people and grouping them together.

This feature, however, is not widely available outside the USA. In Europe, for example, privacy laws mean anything that uses such technology – like Google Photos and Facebook’s Moments – are frowned upon and are disabled by default.

Thankfully, there is an easy to way to circumvent this ruling and enable facial recognition within Google Photos on an Android device, as I will show you in the steps below.

Reset Google Photos

The first thing you need to do is go into the settings on your phone, then head for the apps section. In here, locate Google Photos and click the ‘Force Stop’ button. When you’ve done that, go into the storage section and clear Google Photos’ data.

Fool Google Photos

You now need to fool Google Photos into thinking you are in the United States. To do this, head to Google Play and install Tunnelbear, which is a free proxy service that allows you to get around location restrictions.

Start Tunnelbear once it is installed and create an account. If you are reluctant to provide your email address, then use a temporary email service like TempMail. When you have confirmed your details, set the country in Tunnelbear as United States and wait for it – sorry, the bear – to do its thing.

Restart Google Photos

With that done, start Google Photos and it will begin anew because you previously deleted the app’s local data. While it retrieves your photos and videos from the cloud, head for the settings section and you should see a new option has become available, allowing you to group similar faces.

Group Similar Faces

Enable it and after a while – it can take an hour or so if you have a lot of photos and videos – the new ‘People’ album will begin to fill up with familiar faces. You can then name and locate them by searching in the future.

In the meantime, feel free to uninstall Tunnelbear from your device. You no longer need it and the facial recognition feature is enabled on your Google account, so it will work regardless of how or where you access Google Photos.

While this workaround is Android-specific, you should be able to perform these steps on an iPhone or iPad as well. Just download Tunnelbear on iTunes and away you go.

Hit a problem? Leave a comment below and I will endeavour to help as much as possible.

2 comments on “How to enable Google Photos’ facial recognition

  1. I am trying to activate my Google photos face recognition option and when I try to switch it on nothing happens when I hit the blue words learn more nothing happens.
    I do have an Android phone and LG Stylo 2 plus.
    I am in the United States so it should not be necessary for me to fool the system that I am in the United States.
    Please contact me with regard to providing step by step instructions as to how this option may be activated on my phone as I wish to group my photos which are all installed in Google photos to sort by similar faces.
    Thank you for your prompt assistance.

  2. “This feature, however, is not widely available outside the USA. In Europe, for example, privacy laws mean anything that uses such technology – like Google Photos and Facebook’s Moments – are frowned upon and are disabled by default.”

    Google’s Picasa has this feature 10 years ago in the UK.. So that makes no sense

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