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In 2004 Google introduced Gmail, its web-based free email service. Along with free email, it offered free online storage of endless emails and their attachments. Billions of customers worldwide signed up.

Alphabet Inc., the mother company of Google, has whittled down free storage amounts in recent months, while prodding users toward a new paid cloud subscription called Google One.

As the amount of data people stash online continues to soar, that move places your online storage with Google at risk, and positions Google for making huge profits from Google subscribers being forced to pay for what was a previously free service.

While Google hasn’t settled on a new overall storage amount worldwide, many subscribers are reporting it’s 15 GB for the time being.

When people hit that cap their Google services stop working. They realize they have little choice but to start paying, or risk losing access to emails, photos and personal documents. The cost isn’t planned to be excessive for most consumers, but at the scale Google operates, this could generate billions of dollars in extra revenue each year for the company.

The largest driver of the shift is Gmail. Google shook up the email business when Gmail launched with much more free storage than rivals were providing at the time. It boosted the storage cap every couple of years to 100 GB, but in 2013 it stopped. People’s in-boxes and document & photo storage began to fill up. And now that some of Google’s other free storage offers are being eliminated, consumers are beginning to get nasty surprises.

“I was merrily using the account and one day I noticed I hadn’t received any email for a couple of days,” said Rod Adams, a nuclear energy analyst and retired naval officer. After using Gmail since 2006, he’d hit his 15 GB cap he was given the year before, and Google had cut him off. Switching away from Gmail wasn’t an easy option because many of his social and business contacts reach him that way.

“I just said ‘OK, been free for a long time, now I’m paying,’” Adams said. “Actually, it was a feeling of surrender. If I wanted to continue using Google I now had to pay them for the storage space.”

Other Gmail users aren’t so happy about the changes. Twitter has been abuzz with Google’s action for the past few weeks. Some people have tweeted panicked messages to Google as warnings about their storage limits hit.

Some Gmail users are even resorting to opening multiple email accounts just to have multiple free storage locations, regardless how small. Having those multiple small storage accounts seems to be better than being capped.

Google has also ended Gmail promotions that gave new Gmail subscribers free cloud storage if they bought a Chromebook laptop. What was originally 100 GB at no charge for two years was cut to one year.

Smartphones dramatically increased the number of photos people take — one estimate put the total for 2018 at 1.2 trillion. Those images quickly fill up storage space on handsets. So major tech companies offered cloud storage as an alternative. Now those online photos and documents are piling up and charging users to keep them seems to be the current alternative.

Apple has been doing this for several years, building its iCloud storage service into a lucrative recurring revenue stream. When iPhone users get notifications that their devices are full and they should either delete photos and other files or pay more for cloud storage, people often choose the cloud option. Google sees this and wants in one the extra cash.

In May 2019, Google unveiled Google One, a replacement for its Drive cloud storage service. There’s a free 15 GB tier — enough room for about 5,000 photos, or about 750-1,000 documents, depending on the resolution or file size. Then it costs $1.99 a month for up to 100 GB, and then a higher charge for more than that. This includes several types of files previously stashed in Google Drive, plus Gmail emails and photos and videos. The company ended its Chromebook 100 GB free storage offer around the same time.

Gmail, Drive and Google Photos have more than 1 billion users each. As the company eliminates free storage offers pushing more people to pay, that creates a potentially huge new revenue stream for the company. If 10% of Gmail users sign up for the new $1.99 a month Google One subscription, that would generate almost $2.4 billion a year in annual, recurring sales for the company. And that is for doing absolutely nothing more than charging for what was previously free.

So all of this isn’t because Google loves you. They may like that you are a subscriber that they can push advertisements to, but they absolutely love money more.

So what do Google subscribers do now?

Unfortunately, there are three things you can do. First, you can simply pay for the additional storage space, or second, you could just stop using Google services altogether. The middle ground would require some measure of effort to clean out all of the unnecessary emails, files, photos & movies that you have stored.

Ugh, that’s like cleaning out the attic and the garage back to back. No fun at all.

Step 1: Go into your email and look at your Junk or Spam folder. Quickly scan for any emails that may have been accidentally marked as Spam and dropped in that folder. Chances are that 99.9% of email in that folder is unwanted junk email. You can empty that folder.

If you save old emails to an Archives folder, it would be prudent to check that folder as well. We tend to save old emails thinking we’ll need them later. But reality says that there is a lifespan of just a few months for most of them. That means you can delete most of them.

Then go to the Trash folder. It will retain previously deleted emails for a while, and will also contain most of the junk email and old archived email you just deleted. Many of those emails may contain attachments that take up storage space, but since you previously deleted them, you don’t need them. If those attachments had value then you probably saved them to your Google Cloud folders. Don’t be an email hoarder, clean out the folders.

The only folder that should have anything in it should be your In-Box.

Step 2: Now go to your Google Drive folder and take a look at what is inside. If you save your photos and documents here, then you probably have them organized into subfolders to keep track of their contents.

Now here’s the tough part. You’ll need to actually open those subfolders and peruse the files you have stored. This is the area that usually takes up most of your storage space. Depending on how many files you have stored here, cleaning out those subfolders could be a breeze, or it could take a while. But just like the Archive folders, there are probably a lot of files here that you no longer need. So get rid of them. Like I said about email, don’t be a hoarder.

After this exercise you’ll find you have opened up a large amount of storage space, and should be free to collect more stuff so you can do this all over again next year.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!


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