Around the holidays, I started getting an alert on my Gmail that I was running up against a storage limit. Gmail has always had storage limits, but they were so large relative to the size of an email, or even tens of thousands of emails, no one ever needed to pay attention to it. Then, sometime in the last couple of years, Google started lumping all my “data” — from Gmail, Photos, and Drive — into a single bucket that turned out to be only 0.01GB bigger than all of my data combined. I was using 16.99GB of data, with 15GB in Gmail alone, and it was all suddenly together in one 17GB-sized place. If I hit the limit, Google warned, I’d stop receiving email altogether. I could figure out what items Google suddenly decided were so big and try to manage it down, or I could buy more storage, for a minimum of $2 per month.
From casting around desperately on Gmail support pages, as best I can tell, I came up against this storage limit because of large-attachment emails, but there are only 50 emails in my inbox with attachments bigger than 10MB, and only 30 more with attachments bigger than 5MB (you can check this for yourself by putting “has:attachment larger:10M” in the Gmail search field). Google is likely hoping I won’t bother trying to figure any of this out and will just pay the relatively small amount of money to make this problem go away, and I admit I’m very close to doing so because it’s an extremely annoying problem that they have made just barely difficult enough to solve with anything other than my own money. My Gmail has crashed every time I’ve tried to delete a significant number of emails — once on just 754 emails, from the Trash folder, which self-deletes after 30 days by default (and probably shouldn’t count against storage limits, but does).
It feels ironic for Google to suddenly try to charge me to store my data when it has been making money on it for so long. Not only that, but theoretically, the more data Google has, the more money it’s making from me. It’s like a bank charging me for having too much money in my checking account. For the better part of a decade, Google has read my emails and attachments; it knows where I go and who I talk to, everything I’ve ever searched for in every moment of insecurity or stupidity (just yesterday, “why is tom brady’s coat so big”), and it uses this frankly enormous body of information to serve me targeted ads constantly across the internet.
More to the point, most email I get, I did not ask for. I’ve subscribed to some newsletters in my day, but I’m pretty diligent about checking the “Don’t email me promotions” box, and despite this, they show up anyway. I’ve gotten emails from companies whose forms I didn’t even complete, my email captured by an abandoned, unsubmitted page. The companies that collect and use my data, which include Google, no doubt play an enormous role in the sheer amount of email I receive, making the sudden storage limit a triple injustice: Google is profiting from my personal information, padding out how much data space I’m taking up on their service by offering me up to advertisers at every possible opportunity, and then charging me for it, all at the same time. Perhaps Google is finally satisfied with its complete knowledge of me, and this is just the spitting-out part of having been chewed on for so many years. I am surprised only that the alerts that I am running out of email storage didn't come in the form of several daily emails.
I've used Google products because it's functionally impossible to extricate myself from the Big Five, “free” is a compelling price, and I hold out borderline irrational hope that eventually some regulatory body in which the politicians are not too old to comprehend the internet will come to my defense as a consumer. But now Google isn’t free anymore, and it isn’t any less predatory. Even if I happen to be using wildly more data than everyone else, inertia dictates that the data charges will come for everyone. Gmail has more than a billion users; all Google services have double that.
Originally I was going to list out here some ways or tools that Google could make that would help me cut down the on the sheer amount of garbage in my Google account, but in writing this I have thoroughly convinced myself that this situation is not only not my fault, but I shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning any of this up or managing it at all. This is convenient, as I’m lazy, but I’m also pretty sure I’m right.
Google did not return a request for comment.