It’s the end of an era, folks. The era of free cloud photo storage, that is.
Google announced Wednesday that Google Photos would no longer allow unlimited high-quality photo and video storage for its previous price of free-99 (h/t The Verge). Beginning June 1, 2021, any new hi-res photos stored in Google Photos will count against the service’s limit of 15GB of free data. Once you eclipse that amount, it’s time to pay up.
The move appears to be part of a larger effort by Google to tamp down on — or at least make money on — the massive amount of data it stores. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides will begin counting toward data limits, and Google will also start automatically deleting data from inactive accounts.
The Google Photos policy is not all bad. It won’t go into effect until next June, and all of the media you’ve previously uploaded won’t count against the 15GB limit — only new uploads. Google also points out that it has features to help you manage storage (like identifying blurry photos or large video files you might want to delete), and has a tool to estimate your data needs. As for the price of storage, users can get 100GB of storage for $1.99/month. That cap also includes data from Gmail and Google Drive.
These palliatives, however, did not stem the tide of mass-bemoaning that occurs whenever a tech company decides it’s time to pay for something that was previously free.
In a hand-wringing Twitter thread, David Lieb, the product head of Google Photos, announced the change and tried to show all the ways Google was easing the blow. That didn’t stop his replies from filling up with frustrated customers.
Some people see where Google is coming from. For the privacy-minded, it’s better to ask users to simply pay for a service than monetize their data with ads and more.
Of course, Google does monetize data.
Google says it does not use Google Photos images for targeted ads. Nor does it use them to train its algorithms — it uses photos uploaded to Image Search for that.
But, as The Ringer points out, the way the service works now “won’t be the same way it functions in the future, and ideas that sound invasive today could be sold as innovative tomorrow.” Case in point: In 2017, Google told the Ringer it doesn’t use Google Photos uploads to train its AI. Today, in the most recent version of the app, it’s asking Photos users to help train its image recognition algorithms by voluntarily labeling their pictures.