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Google’s New Storage Policy: Avoid the Terror

by Miguel Guhlin

Google’s new storage policy has left many scratching their heads. For consumers relying on Google’s free offerings, the threat to dump data raises fears. In this blog entry, we’ll explore what this new policy means for educators and what you can do as a free Gmail user.

This blog entry covers these topics:

  • What Google’s new storage policy says
  • Options for taking control of your data sprawl
  • How to best back up and clean out Gmail, Drive, and Photos
  • How to move email and files from one account to another
  • What the new policy means for educators

Ok, ready to get started? Let’s go.

What Google’s New Policy Says: For Consumers

Google’s new storage policy takes effect June 1, 2021 and impacts Google Photos, Google Drive, and Gmail. Remember, Google Drive includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms, Jamboard, and Sites. You have one huge storage bucket, but all these components have to fit inside of it. This policy affects the consumer, or free, version of Google tools. We’ll discuss education users in a moment.

Here’s are the facts as I understand them:

  • If you are inactive (two years) or exceed storage limits, you will lose your data. This applies if you store data in Gmail, Drive, or Photos.
  • To be inactive, this means you’re not logging into these services.

Break the rules, and you’re not completely out of luck. Google offers you emails, notifications, and the opportunity to save your content. But, if you are using the free storage option, you have only 15GB of space available.

Most important for Google, you can invest in their Google One storage plan. So, you CAN avoid the cataclysm of losing data.

Avoiding Data Loss for Consumer Google Accounts

Don’t like the “bait-and-switch” Google has pulled? After all, you started down this road for free, and now, you may have to pay monthly to house all your content. If that’s your attitude, you may want to avoid the Google One storage that augments your storage space. I pay $1.99 a month for my Google One expanded storage (120 GB). Still, what if I could save that annual cost? Invest it in something else? Not to mention, that price could go up any time. What alternatives are there for you and me?

Let’s explore some of the options possible.

Keep Data Storage Local

google storageSuffering from data sprawl? You’re saving so much data, you can’t find the important stuff? You may need to take a slower approach that saves you money. Do this by keeping your data storage local.

To avoid recurring costs and keep your data local, follow these steps:

  • Divide your Google Drive into items a Shared with Others folder, and an Only for Me folder. The criteria I use for the Shared with Others folders is anything that is being shared with others for collaboration or is embedded in a website. Google Sites, Forms, Jamboards, and collaborative docs fall into this category.
  • Run the Google Drive Cleaner (learn more in this blog entry) to get rid of duplicate files. This step alone will save you space.
  • Save the Only for Me folder and its contents to your computer.
  • Get a USB external drive (2 terabytes is plenty. Remember, though, that old adage: “two is one, and one is none” so buy two. USB external drives last three to five years on average). You can use free tools to automate backups. One free automated backup solution is FileFreeSync. Or, take more control of them using tools like Free Commander (Mac alternatives).
  • Put that Only for Me content on both drives. It won’t matter if you have a Chromebook or laptop/desktop with insufficient hard drive space. You will be able to save the contents straight to the external drive (albeit, it may be slightly slower to access).

Once you have a backup of the Only for Me folder on your external drive(s), remove them from Google Drive. This will yield LOTS of space back to you. Worried about recurring costs vs initial cost of an external USB drive and replacement? Consider the following chart and graph.

google storage

It’s based off the Google One storage plan and this external drive (although there are less expensive brands available).

google storage

After cleaning out my Google Drive, following the process in this blog post, I found myself at 3.1GB of 120 GB of space. That’s enough to walk away from Google One Storage.

True Story: Wedding Photos and Video

My daughter married a few years ago. I had approximately 14GB of wedding videos and pictures stored in my Google Drive for safekeeping. My daughter already had her own offline copy. To get that Drive space back, I saved them to my external drives using the process above. Wow, 18GB recouped! This dropped my usage from 46.9 GB used to 29.2 GB used. Your target number is under 15 GB since that is what you get for free. About 14 more GB to shave off my total storage needs.

Ready to clean out your Google Photos? If you’ve been backing up your smartphone’s photos to Google Photos, you have tons of junk pictures. Junk can include memes, cat pictures, or 52 lousy versions of one beautiful snap. Dump the lousy, keep the best. You will regain gigabytes of space.

Find Google Alternatives

Google has a reputation of letting some of its best products die. Having an exit policy isn’t a bad idea. If you’re going to end up paying, why not choose email, photo, and storage options you control? One big complaint about Google is that you are their product. That’s how they tailor advertisements to your needs and interests.

If you want to find alternative’s to Google’s ecosystem, ease into it. Start with your Google Drive files, then your Gmail and photos. Here are some alternatives I use:

Gmail Alternative: Get a Switzerland-based ProtonMail account. You can start out with a free account with 500MB storage, 150 messages per day. If you practice Inbox Zero, this should work well for most. If you have thousands of Gmails and need to put them somewhere, then you will need ProtonMail Plus.  If you want other alternatives, consider another secure alternative for email.

True Story: Over 10,000 Gmails

As a result of an earlier blog post, a Canadian wrote me and asked, “Can I migrate my over 10K Gmails into ProtonMail?” I told him that’s exactly what I had done using the ProtonMail Plus Import-Export app.

With PM Plus ($60 per year), you get 1,000 messages per day, labels, filters, and 5GB storage. What’s more, you can import your Gmail messages into PM Plus. I love the fact I can send encrypted emails, which comes in handy. I use that a few times a year for confidential bank/medical emails. Does this mean I got rid of my Gmail account? Goodness, no. I still give it out as my primary email address to catch spammers and others. I rely on my PM Plus account for family, banking, medical, and secure exchanges.

If Google were to suspend my email account, the loss wouldn’t be so great.

Drive Alternatives

Google Drive is unique in the quality of its collaboration options that you can pick from. Those aside, only put items you plan to share into your Shared with Others folder. These items include Google Sites, Google Docs (e.g. Slides, Sheets, Forms, Docs) that you will work together with others on, and/or Jamboard.

Working on a spreadsheet to calculate your expenses, use LibreOffice on your computer. It’s free for Mac/Windows/Linux and allows you to take advantage of your USB external drive for backup. You can even set up Portable Apps on your USB external drive so you always have access to the programs. Use Google Drive only for activities that need data collection or collaboration.

Cleaning Out Google Photos

google storageGoogle Photos may be a monster with thousands of images to sort through. For some people, it may be easier for them pay the monthly fee for Google One storage. If that’s not you, then there are at least four steps I recommend to clean out Photos.

Cleaning out isn’t easy, but it’s doable. Be aware that you will have to deal with countless folders and images. Let’s review those four steps to clean out Photos.

Tip #1: Download and Organize

Manual movement of photos and videos can take a long time (days, weeks, years). Tools like Free Commander can make the job easier. Once cleaned up, you can use a no-cost, free, open source tool, DigiKam, to organize your photos. This provides better control of your photos than Google Photos online.

google storage

Image Source: DigiKam

Tip #2: Remove Videos in Google Photos

To get more space back, remove videos stored in Google Photos. This is easy since you can type “video” in the Google Photos search bar, and you’ll get a list of videos. You can select them one at a time or by date and then use the MOVE TO TRASH option. When I cleaned out my Google Photos, I dropped 400 videos in the trash. That saved some space, I am sure.

google storage

It didn’t take too long to get rid of the videos shown above. Make sure to check and rid yourself of video space hogs.

Tip #3: Get Rid of “Unsupported Videos”

Go into the SETTINGS for Google Photos and manage “Unsupported Videos.” Trash those since Google can’t play them for you and they are just taking up space.

google storage

Tip #4: Archive Images

Images like screenshots, memes, etc. take up space. But you don’t need them since you can find them online. Be sure to use Google Photos’ Archive option to dump these pictures. In that way, you get rid of images that are automatically backed up from your smartphone. These are images that can include memes, cat pics, and more.

google storage

Tip #5 – Storage Manager

Think you got it all? One final way to double-check is to use Google’s Storage Manager. You’ll be able to clean out discarded items (such as deleted and spam emails) and Google Drive deleted files. You will also be able to see large items and remove those.

google storage

Whew, that was a lot of work. Ready to try some alternatives to Google products? Remember, this time, go lite. Only inlcude online items you need to share or collaborate with others.

Have Amazon Prime? Try Amazon Photos

My alternative to Google Photos, since I’m an avid Amazon Prime user, is to use Amazon Photos.  Sure, Dropbox, Google Photos,  SmugMug,  and Flickr are alternatives. But if you have Amazon Prime, Amazon Photos is an included service at no additional charge. It offers unlimited photo storage. That’s a big differentiator compared to the other services. Amazon Photos also features a backup utility you can install on your device. Again, be careful and keep your exit policy in mind.

Although I could back up EVERY photo I have on my phone, why do that? Instead, I would rather back up only those photos I want to share with others.

google storageAbout Amazon Photos

All Amazon customers, without an Amazon Prime membership, get 5GB of free storage. They can save, share, and access their photos and videos on desktop, mobile, and tablet.

Amazon Prime customers get unlimited photo storage and 5GB of free video storage. They also receive enhanced search and organization features. Using the Family Vault, they can invite up to five members. Those members receive unlimited photo storage, and collect photos together.

Once I saved all my Google Photos, then organized them, I was selective about what I wanted to share. To that end, I only put images in Amazon Photos that I needed to share with others. You can see that via this Amazon Photos album.

Wait, what if I want to back up my photos (cat pics included) off my phone? If you still want to do that, you can. Use an app that makes it easy to copy photos/videos from your smartphone. For iOS, use Readdle Documents. For Android, use WiFi File Transfer (shown below) to back up your photos to your computer. Both apps are available at no cost. What’s more, they force you to be more selective of the content you choose to back up.

google storage

Split Your Usage Among Many Accounts

What some of my friends and colleagues have decided to do is split their usage among several Google accounts. That is, they use one Gmail account with 15GB of free space for personal/family. They use another for professional/work communications. This results in a lot of Google accounts to manage, but it does have a positive effect. You aren’t putting all your eggs in one basket.

google storage

How do you move content that ends up in the wrong space? It’s easier than you might think. You can use Thunderbird email program to move emails from one Gmail account to another via IMAP, if you need to. Tools like CloudHQ, MultCloud, and Google Takeout make it easy to save or move stuff. That stuff can include Google Drive files or emails. And, with those tools, you can move content between them. If you are moving Gmails and Drive content from Google Workspace (f.k.a. G Suite EDU), then Google Takeout Transfer is a must-have tool.

Need to copy a folder or migrate your Drive only? You might try those solutions.

google storage

Image Source: Google’s Drive Storage FAQ for Admins

What Google’s New Storage Policy Means for Educators

If you are saving your school/organization work into a Google Workspace (e.g. Gmail, Drive), you have no worries. Google Workspace storage remains free and unlimited. This means you can back up what you need to and not worry about everything you may have stored in your work Google.

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