Come June 1, 2021, Google will change its storage policies for free accounts -- and not for the better. Basically, if you're on a free account and a semi-regular Google Photos user, get ready to pay up next year and subscribe to Google One.
Currently, every free Google account comes with 15 GB of online storage for all your Gmail, Drive and Photos needs. Email and the files you store in Drive already counted against those 15 GB, but come June 1, all Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms or Jamboard files will count against the free storage as well. Those tend to be small files, but what's maybe most important here, virtually all of your Photos uploads will now count against those 15 GB as well.
That's a big deal because today, Google Photos lets you store unlimited images (and unlimited video, if it's in HD) for free as long as they are under 16MP in resolution or you opt to have Google degrade the quality. Come June of 2021, any new photo or video uploaded in high quality, which currently wouldn't count against your allocation, will count against those free 15 GB.
Image Credits: Google
As people take more photos every year, that free allotment won't last very long. Google argues that 80% of its users will have at least three years to reach those 15 GB. Given that you're reading TechCrunch, though, chances are you're in the 20% that will run out of space much faster (or you're already on a Google One plan).
Some good news: To make this transition a bit easier, photos and videos uploaded in high quality before June 1, 2021 will not count toward the 15 GB of free storage. As usual, original quality images will continue to count against it, though. And if you own a Pixel device, even after June 1, you can still upload an unlimited number of high-quality images from those.
To let you see how long your current storage will last, Google will now show you personalized estimates, too, and come next June, the company will release a new free tool for Photos that lets you more easily manage your storage. It'll also show you dark and blurry photos you may want to delete -- but then, for a long time Google's promise was you didn't have to worry about storage (remember Google's old Gmail motto? "Archive, don't delete!").
In addition to these storage updates, there's a few additional changes worth knowing about. If your account is inactive in Gmail, Drive or Photos for more than two years, Google "may" delete the content in that product. So if you use Gmail but don't use Photos for two years because you use another service, Google may delete any old photos you had stored there. And if you stay over your storage limit for two years, Google "may delete your content across Gmail, Drive and Photos."
Cutting back a free and (in some cases) unlimited service is never a great move. Google argues that it needs to make these changes to "continue to provide everyone with a great storage experience and to keep pace with the growing demand."
People now upload more than 4.3 million GB to Gmail, Drive and Photos every day. That's not cheap, I'm sure, but Google also controls every aspect of this and must have had some internal projections of how this would evolve when it first set those policies.
To some degree, though, this was maybe to be expected. This isn't the freewheeling Google of 2010 anymore, after all. We've already seen some indications that Google may reserve some advanced features for Google One subscribers in Photos, for example. This new move will obviously push more people to pay for Google One and more money from Google One means a little bit less dependence on advertising for the company.