Google Photos — Bait Meet Switch

Google Photos blog post announcing their new Google Photos service.

In case you missed it recently, Google Photos has decided to end their free unlimited photo hosting service. Beginning in June of next year users will be limited to 15GB of space before being asked to pay for more storage. How much you’ll have to pay will depend on how much storage you use. Unfortunately for me, I have more photos than fit their top tier $100/year plan, so even if I wanted to pay I’d be capped out of the service.

While I don’t begrudge Google, a trillion dollar company that makes billions of dollars a year, from wanting to make even MORE money, I am offended by the bait and switch approach that they took with Google Photos. Offering a user the first hit for free is classic dealer marketing. A lot of time and energy goes into organizing your photos on ANY photo sharing site and when someone spends hundreds or even thousands of hours organizing their photos at a site only to be priced out of the site, those are countless hours that you will never get back.

Fortunately for me I’ve spent a lot less time using Google Photos for the past few years. Google’s consistent bad faith across photo hosting/sharing products has left me very skeptical of anything they do anymore.

Some of you may remember Picasa (Google killed it). I was a user of that. I also was a big user of Google Buzz (they killed that too). Then I put hundreds of hours into my photography on Google+ (once again RIP). We used to do photowalks and hangouts and lots of other fun things around photography with Google+. Here’s my old Google+ url.

Initially I was super excited about Google Photos, but that changed over time. I was disappointed that one of their early features, photo facial recognition, didn’t really work for me. It limited the service to 200 faces and unfortunately for me when the service launched it grabbed a bunch of faces of musicians I’d photographed performing at Coachella and chose those as the ones to tag. There was no way to delete those and have it choose people who were actually my family, friends, neighbors, etc.

I was also disappointed that the hours and hours and hours I’d spent keywording all my photos in Adobe Lightroom were stripped out of my uploads to Google Photos. I’m not sure why Google would want to remove one of the best ways for me to search my photos from their service but for whatever reason they strip this data.

Still, Google Photos was free (even though it downsized my photos). It’s hard to complain about free — until they locked my gmail. Last year I received a rather ominous message from Google threatening that unless I paid them for more storage they were going to turn my gmail off.

It turns out that even though Google Photos claimed to be able to convert my photos to high quality JPEGs with free unlimited storage, that TIFF files generated by the software program Analog Efex Pro (ironically a former Google owned product before they jettisoned that as well) were not being converted by Google Photos and were sucking up my gmail storage which was then demanding payment from me. They actually locked my gmail and I missed several important emails that were blocked during this fiasco.

By this point I was about ready to delete my Google Photos account — except I could not find ANY way to delete my Google Photos account. That’s right you can’t just delete Google Photos. You have to delete your entire Google account including your Gmail!

While this is my unhappy story and experience with Google Photos, many, many users were duped into signing up for a free service that they thought would protect, as Google put it, their “lifetime of memories.” Now Google is demanding money from these users.

To me it seems wrong (even evil — remember their old motto “don’t be evil” that they also abandoned?) that Google would bait and switch so many users on this product. You can’t/won’t get the many hours that you spent organizing your photos on Google Photos back. Some will just begrudgingly pay up. What I see is one of the world’s largest companies who used a classic monopolistic tactic to grab market share by pricing out and hurting smaller competitors and now wants to profit from their move.

Once burned shame on you. Twice, three times, four times, five times, six times burned, shame on me. I will never trust Google with another product again.

Thankfully there is an alternative to Google Photos, good old trustworthy Flickr. Here is a thoughtful analysis done by Jeremy Zero comparing Google Photos and Flickr.

I’ve been using Flickr since 2004 and as long as I can remember my Flickr Pro account has remained unlimited. Flickr/SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill even recently re-iterated Flickr’s commitment to honoring their unlimited service. While Flickr may not be a trillion dollar company or make billions of dollars every year like Google does, they are a small company that cares about photographers and your photography. They also do a great job storing and sharing your full high-res, uncompressed, high quality images (and they even retain your photo keywords when you upload them there). I feel much better supporting an ethical small business than a trillion dollar company using monopolistic bait and switch tactics to try to drive the smaller guy out of business.

You can find me on Flickr here. If you are an American Photographer come join the American Photographer Group I administer on Flickr and say hello.

35 Replies to “Google Photos — Bait Meet Switch”

  1. You trusted them a LOT longer than I did Thomas 🙂 I stopped using their photo service after I was dumped from Google+ for daring to criticise their horrific UI changes.
    They only wanted to hover up everyone’s photos for free to create a giant database for them to mine & train their “AI” on anyway. Mining photos for data is no longer making the money for them, so….
    Stick to your local storage (and flickr!) IMHO 🙂 – how are you going with your 1 million photo project?
    See Ya if I ever get to travel again!
    Neil

  2. Neil, the one million lifetime project is well underway. At present I’ve got about 187k uploaded to Flickr. I’ve got another 250k or so processed and ready to upload though and many years still ahead of me and most of my work from the past 5 years hasn’t been touched yet. Hopefully we will cross paths after this virus is over. Cheers to you.

  3. Notably, this change is only going forward. Anything you’ve already uploaded beyond 15GB remains “free for life”.

    I find it funny your going to Flickr though, since they ended their unlimited free 2 years ago, and doing it retroactively, so we all had to download “original” resolution before they wiped them. Then recently u-turned and offer free again.

    Nothing is ever going to be as reliable as storage you actually own (local, cloud, whatever.

  4. Jon, my Flickr Pro has always been unlimited.

    Flickr was never unlimited for free. When Yahoo ran it they gave everyone a free terabyte. That is not unlimited, nor is it sustainable and it was changed by SmugMug who is managing the company more responsibly.

    Personally I was a big fan of that change. Flickr had become a dumping ground for junk photos (thousands of webcam video stills for example from a home security camera, spam, etc.) By limiting their unlimited plan to paying customers it removes a ton of the junk.

    I agree with you that nothing will ever be as reliable as storage that you own — that’s why I have 2 copies of every single photo of mine on local replicated storage at home. Flickr is a great extra backup copy for me, but actually I use it more to showcase and share my photos online with others.

  5. I really hope Flickr adds more social interaction in the vein of Instagram, because FB is in the middle of nailing that coffin now. Either way, I’m happily paying for my pro account as well. I’ve never trusted any of Google’s services like these — if you’re not paying for the service, then you’re the product. And bet your bottom Google identified every face in every photo uploaded, they only let *you* see 200.

  6. Nothing lasts forever, but I long ago cottoned on to the fact that anything ‘free’ lasts less. It’s frustrating the way business models keep changing direction so wildly, but with Google it’s so predictable that it’s a given. Isn’t it?

    I loved Flickr for many, many years, but the doubling in price when SmugMug took over was too much for me. Which I found very sad. The emails I’ve received since, trying to convince me to return, with the implication that if enough users don’t come back the site will go bust…not great marketing.

    So I’m all in with Apple’s iCloud now. More than anything because I’m the customer, not the product.

    Good to see you back blogging.

  7. Thanks Gary. I think Flickr is on very solid footing now at this point. I don’t think it was so much of Flickr doubling the price as it was removing the previous discounted price Yahoo had offered. Frankly, the old Yahoo price was not sustainable. Also if you use Adobe Lightroom you get a $20 annual Lightroom discount so that helps cut the cost as well: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawkblog/50127498078/in/photolist-2jnABnV-2jnAwLf-UefsY1-VgkeL7-UefsZd-Ueft6A-UefsKL-sDVrWj-smK2xo-6o4heu-b3Rbx-94KQp-74bhW

    Flickr Pro was $24.95 back in 2005, fifteen years ago. While we may not agree on the rate of inflation, to me it does not seem unreasonable that it is $59.99 now. If you use the $20 Adobe discount that’s more like $39.99. A very fair and reasonable price for what I get from it.

    Everyone is different but for me it represents tremendous value and I’ve re-upped my Pro account every single year since I turned pro in 2005 as a gift (which I also gifted another user seeing how much I was enjoying it). https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/8774412540/

    Occasionally there are also various discounts. Coupon codes, etc. Flickr gave me 3 months free once on a photowalk for example.

    Everyone has to evaluate if it’s worth it for them or not but I do believe at the current price point of $59.99/year it represents tremendous value for most photographers who want to share their work online in an advertising free environment.

  8. I stopped paying for Flickr when they made the change that pro also only had 1TB of storage, you just had analytics and some other stuff. I know that has been reversed but I read about controversy as to rights of what’s upload to the service after the snugmug acquisition. I don’t know if that had changed or blown over.

    I’m glad I can store all my pictures and b raw files at Amazon, now video does count though. They have a rudimentary gallery and I’ll be e with that beyond the evil Facebook.

    I have to say that Google is kind of making their account more useless by the day.

  9. That’s why I plan on buying a used Pixel 5 or Pixel 4 in order to maintain unlimited Google photo storage.

  10. Hi, I wonder if anyone could tell me how to back up my data and photos, docs etc that is on Yahoo mail, Microsoft Office and my Google accounts to iCloud (if that is safe place. I cannot create my own cloud, and even if I could I am too resistant to learn to do something like this at my age. ). I am a Mac user but my phone is Android and my email is Google. Apple seems to have made it part of their philosophy to keep people’s information private. Also, Flicker is for photos, right? I am a teacher and have lots of documents I need to back up.I never even thought that they would/could erase all my hard work and memories, but now I am waking up. I am a bit of a lucite, so do I first buy apple cloud data storage space then share my google and Android information with the apple iCloud or what? Thank you in advance.
    Bonnie,
    A somewhat reluctant technology user /learner

  11. Dan,

    Having gone through two previous Android phones and having had miserable experiences, I can’t imagine ever going back from my iPhone. The iPhone 12 I’m using today is hands down the best mobile phone I’ve ever used.

  12. I’m fully in love with my 12 pro max. It’s big and heavy, but definitely the best iPhone I’ve used yet.

  13. I would love to know how to transfer my Google photos to my phone before all this nonsense happens. And I’m hoping that they will offer a user out choice so that my photos don’t automatically upload to Google…any ideas?

  14. Hi Stanley,

    I don’t mind the size – for me, it’s basically the same as the XS max I came from. I like the square edges again, but the stainless on the pro is still kind of slippery. I don’t know if the brushed aluminum would have alleviated that, but the leather case I have on it helps a lot. So would the silicone cases, I’m sure. As for the difference between the max and the rest, I’d refer you to this write up from the Halide developers, for what it’s worth. It sums up why I chose the max pretty well. I also try to update less frequently than I used to, so I go closer to the most I can manage when I do buy.

  15. Thank you for the information. I have a lot of photos as well. I also have a lot of videos and they are all through Google. Does anyone know a place I can safely store all of my high res photos and videos? It doesn’t have to be free, but I would like another option besides Google or Amazon. They are rich enough in my opinion.

  16. I enjoy the FREE unlimited full resolution storage of Shutterfly, though there’s no free video storage, they offer great ways to share those pictures. Granted, they’re not the greatest about which file formats they accept.

    Amazon also has a nice unlimited storage for pictures, for those who meet the requirements.

    I also use Snapfish, but they’re a pain if you don’t order products from them frequently.

    After June 2021, Google estimates my 2TB will be used up in less than a year, at that point I will probably go back to my previous way of storing digital pictures… on multiple drives, with redundancy to prevent loss, unless some other web-based service steps up with a simple interface.

  17. It’s amusing to me that you are comparing the fee-paying Flickr Pro with the free version of Google Photos. Let’s compare the free version of Flickr with the free version of Google Photos.

    You are right in that Flickr promised users a free 1 TB space for photos at one time. However, when they changed their mind, free users were forced to pay an annual fee and mark this, or all their photos will be DELETED leaving behind only 1,000 photos. This does not concern you because you have always been a fee-paying Flickr Pro user. Now let’s see if Google is as unconscionable as that.

    No, Google makes it clear that all photos and videos uploaded before 1 June 2021 will not count towards your free 15GB space. That means even if you have 100 TB of photos and videos in Google Photos, not a single one will be deleted.

    Therein lies the honour of Google – it still doesn’t do evil. It doesn’t delete your photos whereas Flickr does. If you can forget for a moment that you have always been using Flickr Pro and consider the fact that Flickr happily deletes stored photos while Google keeps your photos forever, you will have to admit that Flickr is the last company anybody can trust.

    I was unhappy with Google’s decision in ending the free uploads but at least it’s heartwarming to see that Google is not taking the path that unscrupulous Flickr took in deleting existing photos. I will stick to Google and happily pay for more space because I know Google does not delete photos. It would be madness to sign up with a company that has no qualms deleting photos.

  18. Hi Jennifer.

    First off you will not loose any photos or videos that you have already uploaded. The author of this blog is of course entitled to their opinion but FACTS matter and he got that one wrong.

    While the date he provided is correct and after that date any picture or video will count towards your 15GB of free space he neglected to mention…or we both missed it…that anything already on Photos will NOT count toward your space. So you could upload terabytes of pictures prior to to June 2021 and on that date still have 15 GB of data.

    Google Photos is very easy to stop backing up on your phone.

    Open Photos. Upper right corner you will see your account. Click on it. Click on the cogwheel named Photo Settings. The very first option should be backup & synch. The very first option you will see is again…backup & synch…with a toggle switch on the right. Just click that and you’re all done! No more synching and backup from your phone.

  19. Dan,

    While that might seem like a workaround…and it might be keep in mind that Google has already stated that future Pixel phones will not have unlimited backup.

  20. Hi Bonnie,

    Microsoft, Google and Apple all have a vested interest in keeping your private data safe.

    But if you’re truly wondering what they do with your data may I suggest you go and research what their ACTUAL policy is…not from what is in a commercial. I think you will find that Apple has the weakest policy of the three.

    Having said that your data biggest threat isn’t from whichever company you choose but how YOU handle your own security. Do you at the least use a strong password? Do you use 2 factor? How about 2 factor without involving your phone number? How about a trusted VPN service? All of these will make for a much more secure place for your data regardless of which platform you use.

    Remember – the biggest vulnerability in any situation is the human element.

    Do not get caught up in marketing hype about “how they care about your privacy” they only care because if they abused it then it would hurt their business.

  21. If you truly have lots of data then invest in a NAS solution.

    It doesn’t have to be crazy business solution but get a decent NAS enclosure from a reputable company like Synology and pick up some NAS rated drives like Ironwolf from Seagate or Red from Western Digital.

    Run it in RAID 1 or better yet 10. Yes, it won’t be cheap. You can bet on at least 500 bucks for 4 TB…3 TB available for a Raid 1 configured NAS with dual 4 TB drives.

    But you’ll never have to pay a yearly fee to anyone. No company will have your data to mine. And it’s seriously not difficult to set up so that you can access it anywhere with an internet connection.

  22. Google will not normally delete pictures.

    They however will delete them if your account goes unused for a prolonged period. I believe they stated 2 years. And even then they will attempt to contact you multiple times before deleting pictures.

    I just wanted to make that clear as I know people who have dozens of accounts to store stuff on Drive…for who knows what lol. But they better access the service from time to time or risk losing their stuff.

  23. Funny you say, facebook also stopped taking my captions. I am not using it anymore to share. My usage dropped s lot. Plus their controversial algorithm, they are killing themselves.

  24. There are indeed issues with many online digital hubs, including legacy and privacy. One company that you may want to consider is FOREVER located in Pittsburgh.

    As a certified photo manager, FOREVER is one of the vendors that I recommend when writing a client’s Photo Management Plan. The company’s storage plans are “insurance” for your precious family memories. They are backed by a “Guarantee Fund”.

    You can check it out at https://www.forever.com/ambassador/bethgibsonlilja

  25. Thanks so much for the info. Any great ideas on how to get my Google photos that were not taken by my current phone or downloaded to move to my regular photos?

  26. Is there a way to port my Google photos DIRECTLY TO Flickr? I am beginning to lose faith in Google and this article is just another example of why.

  27. I’m not a hundred percent sure what exactly you’re asking for.

    I believe you’re asking how to backup your pictures/videos from Google Photos. If that’s the case-

    First off your pictures are safe on Photos and will not be deleted come June 2021.

    Second- if you just want to back up Photos that’s still a good idea. It’s not too difficult but the last time I did this was via Takeout. Just search “Google takeout”. The first link should be of your Google account (assuming you’re logged in and on Chrome) from there you can select what data you want to download. There will be tons of choices but it’s pretty straight forward.

    If you do manage to get stuck there videos on YouTube or similar to walk you through it.

    Best of luck.

  28. I would say you’re trading one company that can change their policy to another company that can change their policy.

    Has Google changed theirs? YES. Has Flickr changed theirs multiple times along with prices? YES.

    If you truly want a safe and secure backup that doesn’t mine your data and won’t change policies on you. Do it yourself.

    Depending on how much storage you need you can set up a very good NAS for as little as around 500 with RAID 1. For a few hundred more you can increase the storage and go with a RAID 10 setup.

    And if an idiot like myself can do it just about anyone who can type can as well.

  29. Thomas,

    Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to clearly explain how Google Photos reneged on their promise. They fooled me twice…

    For many years, I posted photos on Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and my website.

    As I mention in my (long) Flickr About narrative, in 2019 I decided to abandon the “free” platforms, reboot my Flickr account, and rebuild my collections. Although I’m still rebuilding, I have no regrets about my decision. And I intend to re-up my Flickr Pro subscription when it’s due very soon.

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