Face detection in Google Picasa 3.6

Facebook have had it for a long time: the option to tag people in pictures in your photo albums, that is a great part of a social network oriented site like Facebook. Now in the free photo album (and more) software from 3.6” the process of face dection can be done automatically!

How it works in the application

Starting up Picasa, it is very cool to see how it scans all your images for faces and groups them under the “People” folder. For a start Picasa will find (probertly) a lot of faces which it is up to you to identify. The faces is found using software inside Picasa – and I must say it works impressingly well.

Picasa has located me - Sten Hougaard and now has a group of images where I appear inThe face detection finds rectangles containing faces – here you see the face of the author of this post. To start with Picasa does not know who this face belongs, that part is your job. So you will have to prepare yourself to put some time into that part. Since it is a Google product I would however not doubt that they stored the information in a wise way (more on this later). I have put some hours into this task now, and “only”  meed to tag 466 unknown faces (!).

This have given me the option to view the 377 containing the face of my daughter as a slide show. I can also make a collage, a movie or perhaps uploade those containing the face of my daughter – nice.

What can this be used for?

I personally love this new feature, perhaps mainly because of the fact that it is a new feature – I love the option to view images from various “angles”: Where they were taken, the date, the people on the photo and other. I love the idea of EXIF data inside the images, so that in 20 years my daughter can see much information about the images – if or should I say when I have forgotten all such information related to images.

Another use… perhaps…
As soon as I saw this feature I got at quick thought:

  1. Google lets all its Picasa users identify all their freinds
  2. All the face to people relation information is uploaded to a central server
  3. Google can now do global people location based on the face to people relation done by the millions of Picasa users

– A bit scary! But ofcause Google is god (LOL) so something like that would never (LOL) happen! :-)

Sharing the added information

image The information about the faces on your images can actually be shared on online web albums you have. When you upload images you can see Picasa writing status information “Syncing face tags” and when images has been uploaded and is viewed in the web album you can see boxes around the faces. Both things you can see in the illustration to the right.

As far as I know however you can do nothing with the box that appears when hovering over a face of an image in a web album. In Facebook you get the option to view information about the person in focus, which can be a very strong feature. Ofcause we do not know what Google have in mind, which features it will release later, and you could argue that they are on the right path as they also couples the person data with the information of people in your contacts list.

I am not sure, but it might be so that when viewing photoes on you web album you actually get face detection of other people on photoes – people which you might or might not know.. But I am not sure if this is actually right!

The technical information

From an article “Google Responds to Picasa 3.5 Face Tagging Complaints” I got some information about how the actual data about the rectangles containing faces and the person inside the rectangle was stored. Here is the information:

Face tag data is stored in the Picasa database and also in the .picasa.ini file in the folder where your tagged photo sits. To see the location of the photo on your hard drive and the .ini file where the information is stored, right click the photo and select “Locate on Disk”.

I did that and discovered that it is not too difficult to read, though Google need to document just how to use it, and I look forward to a way to integrate Google contace (face) information with my Facebook albums and their people tagging information! Here are two parts of the “usefull” information inside “.picasa.ini” of one of my photo folders:


“And what is exactly that?!!” you might ask. Well, my guess:

  • rect64(…): This is coordinate information for an area containing a face
  • “5ca08dd0d7257594”, an identifier for a face
  • “5ca08dd0d7257594=netsi1964_lh,6b4f68cf8bba7447” information about the relation from between the face identifier and a contact inside my personal contact list

Given some more documentation it should be possibel to convert the “face found information” to other services like Facebook, but how about the “face pattern”, where is it stored?

It gets smart – intelligent!

When you start to establize the relation between the faces found by Picasa and your existing (or new) contacts/persons Picasa can figure out by its face detection software other occurences of this person – that is: You do not need to approve each and every instance of a face detected by the software. It intelligently figures out by it self, or at least guesses. You will see that Picasa gets better and better to find people you have recognized – and as you do, it will come up with suggestions, which you then can accept or cancel.

All in all I find this face detection feature very cool and love my Picasa even more! I am looking forward to seeing even more cool features added to Picasa..!

Related links
24 Free Picasa Flash and HTML templates to showcase your photos


15 thoughts on “Face detection in Google Picasa 3.6

  1. Hi Sten,

    This is indeed a very cool feature, and I’m also spending some time in the Christmas hollidays on Picasa. ;-)

    Just wanted to mention, that this feature has been available for some time in the web edition of Picasa – I was a bit worried that I had to re-tag all people when the new Picasa 3.6 version came out, but it turned out that Picasa just synchronized all information from the online version and soon after all my photos were tagged correctly and automatically based on my online data. Sweet!

    Now I’m just waiting for the upgrade to Google Android that will enable my camera in HTC to have face recognition. ;-)

    • Hi Peter,
      Thank you for the information – I discovered the feature you mention to sync local name tags with name tags from web album (Tools > Download Name Tags From Web Album). It is the same every time I sit down and write about my experiences with something “new”: It might not be that hot a news item :-)

      Do you know if there is a way to do the oppersite? Sync the local name tag onto the web album.

  2. Nice insight into Picasa’s face detection!
    I totally agree with you that it is a scary to think of the things Google can do with the information they collect. I comfort myself in the belief that Google will go bankrupt the second they start violating peoples privacy.
    The world loves google, but only until they cross the border of integrity.

    The problem that remains is that we will have no control over the database they are building. Software like picasa should always be considered dangerous as it will collect all the intimate info you provide, eventhough you use it in the privacy of your own home.
    Don’t be offended, please! In real life you’ll always protect your doughter from any harm, in any way. Please acknowledge her right to decide what she wants to go out in public. Even when it’s 15 years from now…

    • Hi Vincent,

      Thank you for your comment!

      Thinking about the setup: Google is offering a piece of software “for free” – this is reminding me of other Google “free” services. They are – IMHO – driven by the ability to do “business intellisence” on the data collected by the “free service”. It is not something which I personally have read on any Google pages:

      “We can offers this service for *free* as we do business intelligence on the trails you leave and then after doing a lot of business intellisence sell that information in various ways. Thereby you as a user of our service do not have to pay.”

      Would that make a difference? Hmmm.. perhaps not – I would still use the brilliant search engine from Google.

      However when it comes to Picasa it would be nice to have a list of the points at Google which they intend to be using the face detection for! So please Google tell us what you wil use it for and what you promice not to use it for. This might be assuring for some users at least as a base for making a decition if they wish to use the Face detection or not.

      When it comes to the photo of my daughter: I guess that times have changed, in future it will be easier to dig into the past of anyone. That is probertly something you cannot change, so why worrie? :-) Not that you should be careless ofcause.

  3. Offering there services and applications for free only gives Google the change to earn more money (funny enough). They earn more money when more people see/use there softwares (because of all the ad’s they put in there).

    In order to show the ad’s that you probably will click on (so they can make money), they need to know as much about you as possible.
    When you regularly search for “old car parts”, you will probably click on a link that says “every car part ever made”.

    They are also keen on combining loose parts of information about “you” so they can present even better ads.
    If they know how much money I have in my bankaccount, they will present a link to: “Cheapest car parts ever made”…

    If they also “see” a lot of Nissan Sunny images in my picasa library, they can hit the jackpot…. The link to “cheapest Nissan Dealer ever” will score, big time.
    So far so good. They might actually help me! But there is a big counter part imo.

    I am helping a good friend of mine. he’s fighting torture in Bolivia. My “job” was to create a website, posters a brochure etc. so we could get funding for this genuine good cause.
    In order to have as much information about the subject, so i could create real, and convincing content, I collected a very large amount of images. Images that show people that are being tortured, people who where tortured, military actions, poor children living in the streets of la Paz…. you’ll get the picture.

    I need to access those images, so I can see them, and structure them (something picasa is very good at btw).

    But what will Google think of me? Does their Algorithm realy understand the context of those images, why did I collect them? Am I fighting for a good cause; or am I some sick crazy bastard that gets a kick out of pictures of people getting hurt?

    Googlers are very smart people, and will be able to collect the context (as long as I am transparent enough). But saying you are “asking Google a question” Really means that you are asking them to lookup what the interweb knows about the subject. The answer to your question will be a tiny fragment of the total context in wich the answer is presented.
    So if I was to open up the image library with all the painfull images, and some one would search for a “flesh wound image”, they might start to believe that I am a sick bastard, because they will not receive the context of those images… (it needs text to explain….)

    Yes: Times are changing. Yes: I cannot do very much about that (I don’t want to, having too much fun ;) )
    But I will never expose images of friends, family or other people, because it undermines there freedom of speech/choice. Further more, I have no control over what other people will do with the images (or video for that matter). I cannot delete every instance of an image from the web. So, in the long run, posting images of friends (or what ever) might also undermine my own freedom of speech/choice.

    I think it is a very interesting dilemma.

  4. yesterday my Picasa program stopped working and said I needed to reinstall – I did, and ended up with version 3.9. Now all photos in my library are showing up as faces only. The whole photo is shown when I click on the photo to do a slideshow. Any clue how to get rid of the faces in library and get back to a thumbnail of the photo??

    • Hi Nancy,
      Such an experience is not nice, pictures are special types of documents which you need to be stored in a stable way, so I understand your problem. Actually I understand it very well indeed. At the moment I am working on not loosing all my images because of a problem with a NAS server which I used to store all my pictures. That is also the reason I cannot help you at the moment – I simply do not have my picasa up and running now. I will be back for you if I find a soloution when my NAS with my pictures is back on track.

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