In a shock move, Google has announced that it will be canceling one of its most popular free services.
Google Photos currently allows over one billion users to store their entire photo libraries in ‘high quality’ at no charge. However, that is all set to change next year when the company plans to abolish its free storage model.
Google details the changes in a recent support document, key points of which are summarized below:
- From 1 June 2021, high quality and express quality content will count towards your Google Account storage.
- Users get only 15GB of free storage with each Google Account.
- Once the storage limit is reached, you must either subscribe to Google One for additional storage or delete excess content to continue without paying.
- Photos and video stored before this date are exempt and won’t be charged.
- Unlimited free photo and video storage will continue as normal for Pixel 5 and earlier models.
- You can get an estimate on how long your current storage plan will last by visiting Google’s new storage page.
- If you remain inactive or go over your storage quota for 24 months or longer, all of your Google Drive photos and videos may be deleted.
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Google One pricing varies by country, but in the US, prices start at $1.99 per month or $19.99 annually for 100GB.
Google Photos is a tremendously powerful tool, packed with cutting-edge features, but perhaps the most significant among them is the fact that it has been free to use, provided you accept certain (very reasonable) image quality limitations. With unlimited storage available, most Google Photos users never have to think about running out of photo and video storage on their devices or deciding which images to keep and which to delete.
According to Google, only 20 percent of users are likely to reach the 15GB limit, but unlimited photo and video storage remains, for many, the most compelling reason to choose Google Photos over competing services. With this option removed, some users will no-doubt look elsewhere for better deals.
For iOS users, the most compelling option will be Apple’s built-in iCloud backup, while options such as Flickr and Amazon Prime Photos will also do the job. Both of these services offer unlimited photo storage options: Flickr PRO priced at $6.99 / month or $59.99 / year, whereas Amazon’s option comes bundled with a Prime membership at $19.99 / month or $119.99 / year.
However, as with all subscription-based services, your backup remains contingent on maintaining an active subscription. If you cancel for any reason, all of your photos and videos risk eventual deletion. As your storage use increases, more of your treasured memories are effectively held to ransom for an amount you may one day no longer be able to afford.
For this reason, I recommend making multiple backups of any photos you don’t want to lose. You can download all of your Google Photos content in one go with Google’s Takeout service, which also allows direct transfer to Flickr and Microsoft’s OneDrive. However, if a photo is valuable to you, print it out and keep it in an album you can pass on to future generations. You never know what services may remain active 20 years from now, let alone whether anyone will have the credentials to access your content.
You could, of course, make your next smartphone a Google Pixel and pretend none of this is happening, but note that Google’s terms state that continued unlimited photo storage applies to the ‘Pixel 5 and earlier’. Perhaps Pixel 6 owners won’t be so lucky.
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