How to use facial recognition from your Photos library with Apple HomeKit Secure Video

Apple lets you know who is at the door or another camera when used in conjunction with its secure video system.

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Apple prefers that your private data stay on your devices. That philosophy has prevented and delayed a number of product features that some of Apple's competitors have rolled out earlier, but the tradeoff is often worth it. A few months ago, Apple enhanced its HomeKit Secure Video integration with iOS/iPadOS 14’s Home app to let you tie in your Photos library’s People app, while giving nothing away to Apple—or providing a hole for others to snoop.

That’s a lot of terms to unpack, however! HomeKit Secure Video is Apple’s iCloud-based home security camera storage and monitoring system. Apple doesn’t sell cameras, but this system works with about 10 cameras across several manufacturers. (I switched my existing Logitech Circle from Logitech’s system to Apple a few months ago.) It requires a 200GB or 2TB iCloud storage subscription and a device that works as a HomeKit hub: an iPad (always connected), an Apple TV, or a HomePod.

Like Apple’s general approach for privacy, all data that enters or leaves your network is encrypted with keys stored only on your devices. The HomeKit hub mediates this encryption, so you don’t ever have to deal with it. You access video from the Home app in macOS, iOS, and iPadOS, and can view the camera on an Apple TV.

For facial recognition, Apple doesn’t upload data from your network to its servers. Instead, it relies on faces you’ve already identified in the Photos app. That data is synced in a clever way among all your devices via iCloud, but always encrypted so that Apple can’t access it even if it wanted to. (This is the same method, more or less, used for end-to-end encrypted syncing of iCloud Keychain items, iMessages, and a few other categories of personal data.)

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Clips in which someone is recognized appear with their name, as well as optional notifications. (Name blurred for privacy.)

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You can configure Face Recognition to identify household members, among other options.

Home for macOS lags in features (even in Big Sur), so you need a device running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 to enable and configure facial recognition, and a Photos library that’s connected to the same iCloud account used on your iPhone or iPad.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Launch the Home app.
  2. Select the camera preview.
  3. Click the gear icon.
  4. Tap Face Recognition.

You then have an array of choices:

  • Tap Your Name’s Library and you control access to the facial matches in your library, including whether to share those matches with other people who have access to the same devices via the Home app.
  • Tap Known to Household, and you can identify people who live in the house and hide notifications when they appear on camera. This reduces notifications.
  • As people appear in view of the camera, they’re added to the Recent list. You can tap that and add names or associate faces, and those people are added to the household list.
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Unrecognized faces appear and can be labeled.

At no time do your matches or actions leave your computer to provide Apple with image detail, facial matches, or behavioral data, based on their policies and encryption techniques.

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