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Google Photos sets up paywall, will no longer offer unlimited free storage for all your pictures and videos

Google has announced that its Photos app will no longer offer unlimited free cloud storage for users' photos and videos, instead capping it at 15 Gb, after which users will need to pay a fee of $1.99 for its first storage package.

Any of us that has owned a smartphone over the past 10 years and more can attest to one thing: All those selfies, birthday videos and food pictures truly pile up, clogging up phone storage after phone storage, especially when you migrate your data from one device to another Google introduced a solution to this in 2015: Google Photos For the past five years, the app had offered its users unlimited photo and video cloud storage as long as their uploaded resolution was capped to a certain degree (photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution), but this will no longer be the case

Anyone who has owned a smartphone over the past 10 years (or more) can attest to one thing: All those selfies, birthday videos and food pictures truly pile up, clogging up phone storage after phone storage, especially when you migrate your data from one device to another.

Google introduced a solution to this in 2015: Google Photos. For Android users, this app was a lifesaver. For the past five years, the app had offered its users unlimited photo and video cloud storage as long as their uploaded resolution was capped to a certain degree (photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution, officially called “High Quality” by Google). For cloud storage of full resolution files (referred to as Original Quality), users could pay a fee according to the space they need:

  • Initial 15 GB for free
  • 100 GB for $1.99/month
  • 200 GB for $2.99/month
  • 2 TB for $9.99/month

Now, however, that fee is no longer optional, whether for full-res and or compressed photos and videos, as per a sudden change by Google. 

According to a new announcement by the company, starting June 1, 2021, any new photos and videos users upload to the Google Photos cloud will count toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with every Google Account or the additional storage they’ve purchased. Note that Google Account storage is shared across Drive, Gmail and Photos. 

However, users who own first-party Pixel phones will be exempt from this when uploading High quality (compressed) images, an obvious attempt by Google to push its first-party device sales. 

“This change does not take effect for another six months, so you don’t need to do anything right now,” Shimrit Ben-Yair, Vice President, Google Photos, said in a blog post making detailing the new changes. “And once this change does take effect on June 1, 2021, over 80% of you should still be able to store roughly three more years worth of memories with your free 15 GB of storage. As your storage nears 15 GB, we will notify you in the app and follow up by email.”

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You can find an estimate of how long your remaining storage will last by logging in to your Google account and following this link

According to Bloomberg, the new mandatory subscription that goes into effect next June once a user reaches that 15 Gb free limit could generate as much as $3 billion a year in new revenue for Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. by 2023, as per estimates by Bernstein analyst Mark Shmulik.  

Still, even if the base fee seems negligible, users on social media are understandably upset, especially given Google’s original promise and sudden heel turn: 

“Google Photos gives you a single, private place to keep a lifetime of memories, and access them from any device,” Anil Sabharwal, Google Photos’ then-head, said in a blog post when the service launched in 2015, as highlighted by CNN. “And when we say a lifetime of memories, we really mean it.”

Well, said lifetime is a mere 5 years long in Google terms, apparently. 

Unlimited? Soon, no more.

Truth be told, unlimited storage did sound too good to be true, with Google using their vast wealth and facilities to make this a possibility while smaller cloud storage rivals couldn’t keep up. However, there’s no such thing as ‘free,’ as we’ve come to learn multiple times thanks to Big Tech firms like Facebook and the search giant itself. 

“The data from Google Photos, while not used for ads, has helped train Google’s artificial intelligence software to better understand what’s going on in images,” Bloomberg writes. “Knowing the value the internet giant has pulled from its billions of users already, it’s understandable that consumers now feel like the company is coming back for seconds.”