Google Photos: The Beginning of the End of the Big Free Promise – Digital


Between June 19 and July 1, 2019, someone at Google must have thought that taking a successful commercial off the net would be a good idea. In mid-June, the video was viewed almost 31 million times on YouTube. In the archived version a few days later, only a sad smiley can be seen: “This video is not available. We are sorry.”

Google should really be sorry for that, because the clip was a success. Google made fun of the iPhone’s limited storage space and presented the solution in the credits: the unlimited storage space of Google Photos.


Why Google made the video invisible back then is unclear. A recent blog entry may reveal the answer: What Google manager Shimrit Ben-Yair writes suggests a fundamental change in strategy: In the future, people who use Google services should pay not only with their data and their attention, but also with euros and Dollar.

Google will drastically limit the free storage space. From June 1, 2021, all newly uploaded photos and videos are to be offset against the quota of 15 GB that is available to users across Google services. For years it was the most important unique selling proposition of Google Photos: Anyone who compresses media content slightly and uploads it in “high quality” instead of “original quality” can take as much photos as he wants. Google swallows everything and archives it forever.

Amazon Prime also offers unlimited free storage for pictures, but the app cannot keep up with Google Photos. More than a billion people have uploaded a total of four trillion photos there. 28 billion new pictures and videos are added every day. In view of such numbers, it is understandable that the amount of data will at some point push even Google’s huge data centers to their limits. Therefore, the new limit also applies to Google’s Drive document storage. So far, unlimited files can be saved there that were created with Google Docs or other work programs of the group. In future, these documents will be counted towards the quota.


Server capacity might not have been the only reason that led Google to cut back on one of its most successful products. The other, possibly more important reason is called Google One. What began as paid cloud storage two years ago is evolving into an increasingly comprehensive subscription that Google is pushing into the market with all its might.

As usual, users can buy 100 gigabytes of additional storage space for two euros a month, which can be shared with family members. They also receive technical advice from Google employees and credit in the Play Store around the clock. You can secure your Android smartphone in the cloud using the Google One app, book hotels at a discount and in the future will probably also have access to additional editing functions for photos. Those who take out more expensive subscriptions for more storage space receive up to ten percent discount in the Google Store and, recently, a Google VPN for safer and more private surfing. The VPN service is scheduled to start in Germany in the coming months.

Google wants to give people more reasons to take out a paid subscription. One should become more attractive, at the same time the free offer loses its appeal. This even applies to Google’s own Pixel phones. Owners of the first generation of smartphones could still save an unlimited number of photos in the original resolution in the cloud. The advantages have shrunk with each passing year, and the upcoming Pixel 6 will no longer offer any additional storage space. So even if you buy Google hardware, you should pay for the Google Cloud.


Google plays its dominance cleverly: For years, the company subsidized Google Photos with the billions in profits from its advertising business. The more people upload pictures, the more data Google gets to train its algorithms that automatically sort the photos and recognize people or landscapes. Start-ups had no chance against this superiority and had to give up.

Now there are hardly any competitors left to be taken seriously. So Google tries to get its free customers to pay. Google points out that 80 percent of users would get by with 15 GB for several years, and offers an individual forecast of how long the storage space will last. But even then, there will be hundreds of millions of people who will soon have to find a new location for their photos and videos – or just take out a subscription. That shows what power the big tech companies have. This is also why the EU Commission and the US Department of Justice are investigating who want to enable fairer competition.

Google Photos might just be the beginning. After all, there are tons of other Google services that billions of people are using for free. Youtube already offers a paid subscription, and the platform is also financed through advertising. Gmail and Maps also display advertising, but products like Google Docs have so far been completely cross-financed. So is it possible that Google’s free offer will continue to shrink?


Upon request, the company “does not want to comment at this point” and only refers to a video that explains why Google search contains ads. Therefore, Google can offer services like Maps and Docs for free. But you should never be too sure about Google. “If we talk about all of your memories, then we mean it too,” promised Google five years ago. “With Google Photos, you can now save and store any number of high-resolution photos and videos for free.” That sounded almost too good to be true even then. Today it is clear: That was it.



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