Introduction and marketing deal

Thanks to a “small number of users” taking up more than 75TB each by backing up “numerous PCs” or uploading their “entire movie collections and DVR recordings,” Microsoft has reduced the amount of storage on OneDrive . Even users who pay for a subscription only get 1TB of storage, and free users get knocked back to 5GB instead of 15GB – Microsoft did not even keep the old 7GB allowance it had before.

The ‘camera roll bonus’ has also been ditched, so Windows Phone, iOS and Android users automatically uploading their photos and videos will have to make sure they stay under the limit or buy a subscription (4k video files created on the new Lumia 950 XL are likely to use between 90-150MB for a minute of footage, depending on the codec).

Groove Music users will likely want to stop uploading their music for easy access from multiple devices. Free OneNote and Sway users will also need to watch their usage, as OneDrive is their only option for storing OneNote notebooks and Sways. What happens if they go over the limit?

If you’re using more than 5GB of free OneDrive storage when Microsoft drops the limit in early 2016 then you’ll get a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal free – but you have to give Microsoft your credit card details (and presumably remember to remove your files and cancel the OneDrive subscription before you get charged for the subsequent year).

Marketing move?

This offer makes it obvious that the drop in storage is far more likely a marketing deal for Office 365 than Microsoft actually having problems coping with all those backup files (especially given how often the company talks about how hyperscale its cloud data centres are). Even more so, when you consider that the OneDrive team deliberately picked a figure which is less than the average user stores as the free storage limit.

According to the blog, the average is “14,000 times” less than 75TB – that’s 5.4GB, making 5GB look nothing short of mean, compared to 15GB free on Google Drive, plus extra space for images. In fact, since this whole change is blamed on the users filling up 75TB of space, it’s not clear why free users get less storage at all, unless Microsoft is giving up on the idea of ​​using OneDrive as a loss leader to attract users from other platforms, with tools like automatic photo upload.

But with the push to subscriptions, not even offering the option to pay for more than 1TB makes OneDrive far less useful for anyone working with large video files or extensive photo collections; they’ll be better off paying for Adobe Creative Cloud or Flickr. If you want to back up to the cloud, pay for Azure Backup – or use a non-Microsoft service like Backblaze, which has unlimited storage for both personal and business plans.

ODB still only in development

The reduced storage applies to consumer Office 365 subscriptions – Home, Personal and University. There’s no word yet whether OneDrive for Business customers will also lose the unlimited storage they were promised last October but never actually received. The feature is still marked as Under Development rather than Cancelled.

A Microsoft spokesperson told TechRadar that the announcement is only about the consumer service: “There is not additional news about the Office 365 Business storage plans.”

Policy and privacy questions

The announcement raises some concerns, beyond the tone of the announcement which witnesses Microsoft berating users for taking them at their word and actually using unlimited storage – and indeed, backing up files the way previous OneDrive head Chris Jones suggested they do. It’s strongly reminiscent of a school teacher taking the class to task because ‘some people have spoiled it for everyone else’ – and sounds far more like the old Microsoft than the new cloud and mobile-friendly Microsoft of Satya Nadella.

Blog post

It’s also reminiscent of the blog post where Microsoft announced that it was taking away OneDrive placeholders because they confused some users (when the actual reason is technical problems on low capacity tablets).

Why did not Microsoft – which offers sophisticated policy options for businesses that want to manage bandwidth and control who can work with which kinds of files – simply announce that it would throttle upload speeds for people uploading extra-large files , and remove people abusing the unlimited storage option?

Every other provider – from ISPs to mobile carriers – that offers ‘unlimited’ options remembers to put the quote marks around the word, define what’s actually available and police users who go over the limit. Did Microsoft only just do the calculations of what a billion users with 15GB or 30GB of free storage would cost them and realise how expensive its Windows 10 ambitions could get?

Microsoft snooping?

There is also the question of how Microsoft knows that those 75TB OneDrive users were uploading backups, movies and DVR recordings. To know that, the OneDrive team must still have been looking at the types of files on the service. Microsoft confirmed this to TechRadar.

The company said: “We have been consistent with the terms of the Microsoft Privacy Statement for OneDrive users and have not reviewed customer content. In an effort to improve OneDrive, we review file types and file size in the aggregate, such as patterns of behaviour. We are not reviewing personally identifiable information.

“In addition, we’ve had conversations with high-volume users about how they use the service. These conversations and data analysis have been the basis of our decision to change storage plans – optimising for how the vast majority of OneDrive customers use the service. “

Certainly, the privacy statement says” When you use OneDrive, we collect data about your usage of the service, as well as the content you store in order to provide, improve and protect the services, “and finding out what’s using more space than expected comes under the heading of protecting the OneDrive service.

Alienating customers

But all the examples given are about what Microsoft can do for users by looking at their usage, rather than how Microsoft might be tracking users – “indexing the contents of your OneDrive documents so that you can search for them later and using location information to enable you to search for photos based on where the photo was taken. “

Even metadata like the type and size of a file can reveal information – like the fact that people are saving a backup rather than a random file on OneDrive. That’s more than most people expected Microsoft to be looking at on OneDrive. It’s clear to see from the feedback on UserVoice (which quickly reached 6,000 votes in the first few hours) that the OneDrive changes have alienated formerly loyal customers.

Coming after concerns about privacy in Windows 10 – where, again, Microsoft is gathering information to improve the service it can offer – it suggests that Microsoft and customers are not always on the same page concerning the implications of using a cloud service.