Google Photos Just Made the Case for Breaking Up Big Tech
A new policy perfectly illustrates a core issue across the industry
After five years of Google Photos offering unlimited, free storage of “high-quality” compressed images, Google announced on Wednesday that its policy is changing. Starting next June, any new photos you upload will count toward the 15 gigabytes of free storage offered to every Google account. (Your old photos won’t.) After that, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee for Google One, its cloud storage service.
In one sense, that’s a totally reasonable policy change for a product that has become wildly popular since the initial free-storage offer. Storage isn’t really free or unlimited, after all, and 15 gigabytes is still a lot of space. Some even argue that paying Google directly for services such as Google Photos represents a healthier business relationship long-term than paying with your data or attention.
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But viewed from another lens, it’s a galling bait-and-switch and an object lesson in anticompetitive behavior by a Big Tech firm. The unlimited free storage offer was arguably Google Photos’ top selling point, one that few, if any, competing providers could match. The company was likely willing to lose money on its service in exchange for the photos’ value in training its A.I. systems and for the value of keeping users in its broader software ecosystem.
Now that Google has lured more than 1 billion users to the service, making it an integral part of their digital lives (not to mention a huge hassle to switch), that original selling point is gone.
As Platformer’s Casey Newton pointed out on Twitter, though, the real losers here are not Google Photos users. It’s still a great product in many ways. The losers are all the rival photo apps that Google Photos crushed on its way to the top, including startups such as Everpix, Loom, and Picturelife. (Newton reported on the struggles of photo storage startups for The Verge in 2015.)