[UPDATE] Free Cloud Storage Services
When I first wrote about “free cloud storage services” way back in January, 2014, there were a lot from which to choose. But as the industry has consolidated and people have become more dependent upon cloud storage, the number of cloud storage providers offering free space has shrunk. Read on to learn who still offers free cloud storage for your files...
Cloud Storage De-Clouded
Cloud storage is simply another name for online file storage. Keeping backups or working copies of important files in the cloud, instead of your hard drive, can give you peace of mind, as well as more convenient access to your files when you need them. As long as you have a computer or a mobile device with internet access, you can access, edit, and share your files using cloud services. And if it's free, that's even better!
Three of the most popular cloud storage providers are Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox. They're all excellent, secure cloud services, they all offer some amount of free online storage, and they all provide convenient access to your files.
Microsoft OneDrive offers 5 GB of free storage. Google Drive provides a generous 15 GB, plus unlimited photo image storage if you let Google compress and enhance your photos. Dropbox is very stingy with only 2 GB of free storage before you have to pay either cash or contact; the company will give you a total of 16 GB free if you refer friends and family, complete your account setup, or follow Dropbox on Twitter.
These days, most cloud storage services go for significant chunks of change after the free bytes are used up, and offer limited amounts of storage in exchange. Dropbox, for instance, won’t bother to sell you 100 GB of space for, say, $3.50 per month; no, the first step into subscriberland is $8.50 a month - $102 per year - for one whole terabyte of space (1000 gigabytes). The final step up is $16.50/month - for the same 1 TB with “Professional” features that most consumers don’t need.
Google has a 100 GB deal for only $1.99 per month; the next plunge is $10/month for one terabyte, and if you want to go all-in on 10 TB it’s $100/month. Google keeps things simple.
Microsoft has made a fortune by making simple things complicated, and the company follows that formula in its OneDrive pricing. You can get an additional 5 TB for $100/year, but it’s 1 TB for each of 5 different users. (What?!?) Plus, you get Office 365, the cloud-based version of Microsoft's flagship office product - but it’s the “Home” version that lacks many advanced features of desktop Office. Just to confuse, confound, and harass you some more, you can try this bundle for free during the first month, or pay $10 on a month-to-month basis. Be very mindful of when your 30-day free trial ends or the credit card you provide in order try it “for free” will automatically be charged $99.99 if you haven’t canceled by the deadline. This mind-bending morass is what Microsoft calls “consumer choice.”
Lesser-Known Cloud Storage Services
Beyond the big three lie many cloud storage services that you’ve probably never heard of. Some are downright sketchy, suspected of being havens for criminals, copyright infringers, and other ne’er-do-wells. Here are some examples so you can see what the second tier of cloud storage services is like.
Mega - or, as they like to type it, MEGA, offers end-to-end encryption of your sensitive data. MEGA was started in 2013 by the infamous cybercriminal Kim Dotcom, but he severed ties with the service in 2015. Upon arrival, MEGA presents you with two options: "Try without account" or "Create an account". The first option lets you upload files to a "temporary account" which vanishes when you close the browser tab being used. Not sure how that's useful, unless you want to use it as a means of transferring files to another user.
If you create an account, MEGA offers 15 GB of free storage, and a decent web interface to your online files. But there are some downsides (in addition to the fact that you may be storing files along with unsavory characters). MEGA tends to be slow, and your account will be deleted if you don't login at least once every three months. There's also no way to recover your account if your forget your password.
Box - not to be confused with Dropbox - is a cloud storage service for geeks. It takes a good deal of geekhood to even understand the sentence that greets new visitors: “Execute your GDPR Data Processing Addendum now!” What is that word salad? I don’t know. Box has evolved from an early Internet pioneer into a sophisticated collaboration and cloud services company catering to businesses on the cutting edge of the digital office revolution.
Box’s long track record means it’s incorporated into many apps and accepted as a partner by many online services. Box is a storage option on Google Docs and Office 365, for instance. Box’s Business plans feature advanced security, starting at just $5 per month per user for 100 GB of space, which sounds pretty good. Minimum of three users and a max of 10 sounds like Box is really wooing small companies. But then you learn that this bundle includes a “2 GB file upload” maximum, meaning no one file you upload can be larger than 2 GB. Why? To inconvenience you just enough that you take the plunge into the next higher price tier but no so much that you say, “Forget it” and leave the site forever.
The next higher price point is “unlimited” space (there are always “some restrictions” that apply to any “unlimited” offer), a 5 GB upload max, no maximum number of users, plus “advanced security,” which can only be end-to-end encryption using 256-bit AES, encryption that would take the all-powerful NSA 200 years to crack by brute force. All of that and more for $15/month per user, minimum of 3 users. Box has an Enterprise plan that includes things of no interest to the small fry, such as “HIPAA/HITECH-eligible, FedRAMP regulatory compliance.”
MediaFire starts you off with 10 GB of free storage space, enough for many users’ backup needs. (There is a limit of 4GB per file.) Additional storage can be purchased, up to a maximum of 1 Terabyte per user. MediaFire also enables collaborative document sharing, image galleries, support for mobile devices, bulk downloads, and direct links to files that can be enclosed in emails. Note that MediaFire does not sync your files like DropBox and some other services that automatically keep files updated in multiple locations as they change.
NextCloud is an earthbound pony trying to masquerade as a cloud-galloping unicorn, because “cloud service” sounds sexier than “network-attached storage (NAS).” You can download free software that turns an external hard drive of any capacity into a “cloud server” that resides under your desk, right on top of the tower of your desktop PC, and is shared with other users on your home network. Seriously. Or for just $79, NextCloud will send you a preconfigured external hard drive that you can call your own “cloud server.” I couldn’t make this up if I tried!
SpiderOak is part of a “new” trend; no, not company names that seem to have been pulled out of a spilled game of Scrabble. SpiderOak is talking about “zero knowledge cloud services,” companies that handle your data without having a clue what it is, or the ability to decrypt it even if presented with a valid search warrant.
Apple made “zero knowledge” a popular thing after the 2015 San Bernardino mass murders (Wkipedia: https://goo.gl/XrP04R) when it told the FBI that there was no way for Apple to crack the encryption on one of its own, obsolete iPhones or the iCloud cloud storage space associated with it. Apple was wildly applauded for simply telling the truth about its own product, and soon “zero knowledge” is what numerous cloud services promised. But SpiderOak will not release its software’s source code to the security research community, so no one knows if it really does what it says it does. “NEXT, PLEASE!”
Finally, Flickr offers photography fans one TERABYTE (1000 GB) of free storage -- enough space for about 500,000 photos. The service is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS devices.
Online Backup Options
Services like Mozy and Carbonite are specifically designed as online backup providers. The difference between online file storage and online backup is subtle. The former is for people who want to store files online, with convenient access, editing and sharing. The latter is designed to safely stash a copy of your stuff, with the option to restore it to your hard drive when needed.
Carbonite offers a limited free trial, but Mozy will give you 2 GB of online backup space for free. You can also "earn" an additional 1 GB of space with Mozy for every four people you refer. Your backup storage won't expire, and there's no credit card required to sign up. On February 13, 2018, Carbonite announced its intent to acquire Mozy for $148.9 million in cash. It's not known yet if Carbonite will fold Mozy into it's offering, or if the free accounts will still be available in the future.
When all is said and done, Google Drive still seems to be the best option for the average consumer. You get a generous allotment of free online storage, capable online word processing and spreadsheet tools, and no annoying or confusing upsells.
In the near future, I will be taking an in-depth look at Microsoft OneDrive to see what it can offer to home users. Stay tuned, and while you are waiting please comment below.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Mar 2018
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Most recent comments on "[UPDATE] Free Cloud Storage Services"(See all 28 comments for this article.)
07 Mar 2018
I am getting 40 gigabytes of OneDrive storage for free. Signed up for it in late 2008 and got 25 gigabytes for free. Later got 15 gigabytes for free when I said they cold store photos I took. Now I have been grandfathered in! This is more than enough storage for a retired person like me. OneDrive works just fine and I can access it easily on two computers and my phone and tablet.
07 Mar 2018
Has anyone had any experience with Amazon Drive? At $60 per year for 1TB, I would be interested in hearing in relation to the points raised by Bob above.
07 Mar 2018
Is there anything wrong with creating your own Cloud storage dedicating a second computer to serve as the Cloud with its own batterypower backup? Since it would be your personal Cloud storage,you can turn it on or off as needed. It can, for the most part remain disconnected from the Internet. I know that there a few other factors to consider.
08 Mar 2018
Online backup: I've been a customer of Mozy, Carbonite, and others. My unreserved recommendation is for Backblaze, which offers fast unlimited backup for $50 annually per machine. I have not found any catches for "unlimited". The restore process is faster and better than the others. To get a measure of this company's ethics, read through their blogs and also what other people say about them. I have no connection to Backblaze other than being a satisfied customer.
08 Mar 2018
I second the Backblaze recommendation.
08 Mar 2018
Thanks for the interesting info. I have been using One Drive for free for a couple of years and have been pleased with it.
08 Mar 2018
Even though I haven't used Backblaze, I also recommend it for backups (not storage!). My only complaint about Backblaze is they are not compatible with Linux. CrashPlan is compatible with Linux but they have gone downhill in quality and price.
08 Mar 2018
What is the catch with flickr?
1 TB seems enough for pictures for 10 years.
But - does it decrease the quality of the pictures or keep them as they are taken?
And does it accept videos or only pictures?
08 Mar 2018
I use Degoo at the 100GB free level. You can earn extra space or buy the full 2TB package. It runs a backup every night checking for any changes. You set what you want backed up ie. pictures, music, mom's poetry, etc. It's pretty simple to set up, while extracting a file from it is a little tough when you want one picture out of 30GB worth. My own fault for never having categorized them.
08 Mar 2018
In response to Frank: using a "Cloud" computer of
your own on your own network will work. I have a
home network with several computers and back up any
data I do not wish to lose (notable cost or trouble
acquiring, e.g.) on their various drives, including
a 2 TB RAID array on one machine. The downside is
that if the house burns down everything is likely
lost. An off-site backup of critical data could
prevent such loss.
08 Mar 2018
Bob, please don't take offense but nothing is 'free' you pay for everything one way or another. Payment maybe cash or ads. The other problem is if it's online it is hackable. The only question is how hard is it to hack. The only real protection is as you have said is backups and off site storage.
09 Mar 2018
I do the free 2 GB on Dropbox. They don't like that. I am always getting messages telling me I should download all my photos to Dropbox. In short, they want me to rack up more than 2 GBs so they can charge me. I let them do it once and deleted all the photos except one, and they seem angry I won't do it again.
09 Mar 2018
I use iCloud - 5gb free storage, accessible from my Mac, iPad and PC
10 Mar 2018
I was happy with One Drive for a short amount of time. I started with 5GB and had done enough things to get up to 30GB. Then, they started sending me notices stating that they were changing their rules and everyone was going to be changed to 5GB. However, they would give me Office 365 for free for a short time and have 1TB with it. I thought, I'd rather not give in to blackmail. Yes, free would be great but their goal of course is to get everyone hooked and then continue the yearly charge. Sorry, it's nice that Microsoft can stack 100 dollar bills to the moon and back again. I do not wish to be a part of stacking them to Jupiter.
I use Google Drive and now I use Google Photos with the 'High Resolution' option because I quickly went over the 15GB limit originally and do not wish to pay. Like someone else mentioned, they're getting paid, through advertising and getting us 'hooked' on the myriad of products. Their products are very good but I still feel conflicted giving money to a company that through ABC could possibly buy countries. LOL
Thank you for the idea of Flickr. If they will do that much storage at full resolution, I'm sold!
Personally, I back up multiple, multiple times when something is important. If it is also private, I often use 7-zip or another archiving tool to password protect at a high level of encryption before putting online. I put the file on more than one computer, an external HDD and if small enough, email it to myself from one email address to another and in some cases send it to a family member informing that I've sent the encrypted file for a reason, please don't delete. I know. Paranoid of losing some things. As Bob mentions, redundancy of backup is what prevents small catastrophes.
An interesting ending to the Apple situation, was that the Feds got in. I can see both sides to the case and prob shouldn't start an unnecessary debate. I can see both sides. I see how it could be a slippery slope but refusing to crack the phone of a dead killer, would be on the bottom of my list of things to do this year. However, when thinking of security within the 'helpful home devices' it is one reason why, I'd perhaps lean toward using a HomePod after they get them further synced in contrast to Amazon or Google 'helpful' products. While I've got nothing to hide per say, it does seem slightly comforting to know Apple protects.
17 Mar 2018
Just read on ZDNet: "The newest Windows 10 test build, 17623, includes a change via which links in Windows Mail open in Edge, regardless of a user's default browser choice. Let the complaints begin!" What does this mean? Here's the link: http://enews.zdnet.com/ct/34160462:srBQ7VVSN:m:1:717049020:c8e774adf094b426f72e251d64da1fbf:r
17 Mar 2018
iDrive is NOT FREE, stay FAR AWAY! Bob, on your recommendation, I bought the iDrive external hard drive with "free" cloud storage just over a year ago. It sounded like a great idea to back up from two computers. Granted I live in a rural area with slow internet, but it took over 24 hours to back up my business files and photos. Then, after one backup, got annoying messages every time I turned on computer that I was out of space and to buy additional space! Stopped using the device, and when I had time, removed annoying software and used drive only for external backup. Then, to add insult to injury, found out my account was automatically renewed for $70. When I saw charge on credit card, called to cancel, and was told NO REFUNDS! They are legally well backup with long user agreement, but DON'T DO BUSINESS with these frauds! BTW heard Carbonite is buying them.
19 Mar 2018
I had the same problem as you with Idrive..luckily I was able to get a refund..
11 Jul 2019
Smugmug took over Flickr in spring 2018, and as a consequence the 1TB storage for free users was changed to a maximum of 1000 pictures, since spring 2019 - so typically perhaps 5GB to 10GB for DSLR jpegs.
03 Dec 2019
Mozy no longer offers free online backup. It's now part of Carbonite, where the cheapest plan costs $6 a month.
03 Dec 2019
Flickr is going through some changes now that it's no longer associated with Yahoo. Based on what is shown on the site, I'm guessing it hasn't been a smooth transition. That said, if I understand everything presented, even a free account now gets unlimited storage of photos. However, the free accounts are ad supported and have very limited features. It took a while to find the cost of the Pro membership -- had to pretend to signup for it to find it. https://www.flickr.com/account/upgrade/pro and then click "Get started."
"Get unlimited storage ad-free, plus get advanced statistics, and worry-free backup with the desktop Auto-Uploadr" for $5.99 per month, billed monthly.
"Get unlimited storage, ad-free, with advanced statistics, worry-free backup via the desktop Auto-Uploadr, and exclusive discounts from Adobe, Blurb, SmugMug, and Priime for $4.17 per month," billed annually.
To add to the confusion, on the same page as the Pro upgrade information, it states, "Upload your 1,000 favorite photos and videos, plus powerful tools to edit, organize, and share them all. We will show ads on your account with this plan." That's for the free account.
On the Home page it states, "Unlimited storage
All the uncompressed photos you can upload." That's for "Flickr Free."