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Tag Your Photos to Make Friends, Family Easy to Find

Organizing images on your smartphone takes a little time now, saves a lot of time later

a man leans back to take a picture of a large group at a table in a restaurant

Getty Images

En español

If you’re like most folks, you take hundreds of photos on your smartphone, but you have a really hard time finding key shots — unless you know about tags.

Using tags to identify people on your iPhone or on apps such as Google Photos and Amazon Photos will take a little time to set up. But once completed, searching for your friends, family members or newfound acquaintances will be way easier and save you a lot of time in the end.

Instead of looking by date or location, you simply type the person’s name, or better yet, click their image on a thumbnail. In the past, people have tried adding captions or keywords to their photos in the hopes that finding those photos would be easier. That process works, but it’s very time consuming. Since Apple, Google and Amazon now use facial recognition to prioritize people search, tagging takes less time.

You can do it on either the computer or smartphone. Here’s how:

screenshot of the photo tagging feature in apple photos

Apple

After finding the picture you want to tag in the Apple Photos app on Macintosh computers, click the info button and you’ll be able to name all the subjects.

How it works on Apple computers, iPhones, iPads

• On a Macintosh computer, open the included Photos app and find a photo you want to tag. Click the info button ⓘ, the one with the circle around the lowercase “i” that’s in the top-right menu. A pop-up menu comes up, where you want to click Add Faces or the thumbnail of the subject in the photo.

This works not just in a solo shot but with multiple faces. You are directed to name them. Do that for each face, and they will start showing up in your searches. And when you take new photos of these people, the machine learning will learn their faces and they’ll be tagged in both new and old photos.

iphone screenshot closeup and wider view showing photo tagging prompt and dialog box

Apple

On iPhones, Apple inserts thumbnails shots of the subjects; when you click on one of them, you can fill in the person’s name.

• On an iPhone or iPad, open the Photos app and find a shot of the person you want to tag. Click the info button ⓘ, which is at the bottom of the screen.

In the photo, Apple inserts a little circle shot of the subject at the bottom left. Click it and the menu asks you to Tag with Name. Do so, and the contact is now tagged.

screenshot of auto photo tagging suggestions in google photos

Google

Clicking the search bar at photos.google.com will show you a group of thumbnails with your most commonly photographed people.

How it works with Google Photos

• On a computer, click the search bar at photos.google.com and a group of thumbnails shows up with your most commonly photographed people. To search for specific people, either click one of the thumbnails or See all people below and sift through those phases.

Those faces may be already automatically tagged. Click the image you want, and Google directs you to Add a Name. Do so, and they are now tagged.

• In the smartphone app, click the People & Pets section, and the same group of thumbnails will pop up. To add ones who aren’t tagged, scroll down and click a face.

As it does on the computer, Google instructs you to Add a name. Type it in, and the contact is now tagged.

screenshot of browser screen showing photo tag prompt feature in amazon photos

Amazon

If Amazon Photos’ artificial intelligence doesn’t recognize a face, it will ask you “Who’s This?”

How it works with Amazon Photos

• A $139 annual Prime subscription offers free tagging for members along with unlimited photo storage and shipping and entertainment. Start with photos.amazon.com on your computer.

You may need to register and sign up if you haven’t already. If you’re not a Prime member, Amazon charges $19.99 a year to use its app, including 100 gigabytes of storage.

Click the People section in the left-hand menu, and you’ll see a row of faces in thumbnails. Amazon may automatically tag people in frequent photos. For those the artificial intelligence (AI) doesn’t recognize, it asks “Who’s This?”

Click the face you want to tag. A pop-up window instructs you to name the person. Once stored, the person can be found in searches.

• The Amazon Photos smartphone app has sections devoted to Years, People and Memories. As on the desktop, untagged people are in circle thumbnails. Click on the faces you want to tag, name them and Amazon displays the same pop-up window letting you know they are being renamed.

Amazon, Apple and Google also say they can search for places and things, which don’t need to be tagged. The companies use AI and the location data generated when we snap the photos to figure them out. However, the tools are not as accurate as tagging for people.


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What about privacy?

Worried that posting photos of your vacation trip to Bermuda will result in Google ads for all things Bermuda showing up in your Gmail and elsewhere on Google? The company’s chief executive says that won’t happen.

“We don’t use information in apps where you primarily store personal content — such as Gmail, Drive, Calendar and Photos — for advertising purposes, period,” says Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet.

Amazon, Apple and Google all say their facial recognition features are private. For instance, Google says its face technology is “private to each account and not shared across accounts,” “only visible to you,” and not shared across its network.

Amazon reminds that photos are private until they are shared. Apple says its Photos app uses machine learning to organize photos on your device, as opposed to the cloud, “so you don’t need to share them with Apple or anywhere else.”

But if you’re worried about privacy and don’t trust the companies’ statements, you have one clear way to make sure they don’t do anything with your photos: Don’t share photos from the app. Download them and share them outside of the programs, in email or a text.

Jefferson Graham is a contributing writer who covers personal technology and previously was a technology columnist for USA Today. He hosts the streaming travel photography series Photowalks and is author of Video Nation: A DIY Guide to Planning, Shooting, and Sharing Great Video.

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