With Google’s new limit on free data storage, don’t forget your Gmail inbox. It could be stuffed

Since Google stopped providing unlimited storage in Google Photos June 1, some of you may now worry that an excess of cat photos will push you into paying for extra storage or finding another place to back up your pictures.

But this space crunch might not hinge on images at all, because Google’s 15 gigabyte limit for no-charge storage covers not just Google Photos but also Google Drive and Gmail.

And while an individual email might not seem like much, a thousand words can be worth a picture – especially if they were sent in an attached PDF or came woven into enough web coding.

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New emails in your Gmail account now count towards Google’s 15 gigabyte limit for no-charge storage on your Google account as of June 1. (Photo: Pixabay)

Even plain-text messages add up for those who opened a Gmail account early after the service debuted in 2004 with the pitch “Don’t throw anything away.” In my own Google account, for example, Google Photos only amounts to half of my combined Drive and Gmail storage.

Update your Google Gmail inbox

Gmail’s inbox-management tools still assume that storage isn’t as big of a problem as search. You can use special queries to find bulkier messages (“larger:10m” locates those bigger than 10 megabytes), but Google PR confirmed that you can’t ask Gmail to rank the mailing lists that put the biggest dent in your quota.  

Neither Gmail’s web interface nor its Android and iOS apps even let you sort messages by sender, which could suggest the more prolific correspondents. To do that, you’ll have to synchronize Gmail to a desktop mail app like what Apple includes in macOS and Microsoft bundles with Windows.

Or maybe it’s already obvious which attention-starved companies, nonprofits or political campaigns make it up in volume.

Photo of Gmail on a smartphone. (Photo: Mike Snider, USA TODAY)

Either way, once you do identify your major mail offenders, you will want to return to Gmail’s web site, which functions better than its apps for zapping messages in bulk. Here’s how:

  • Search for the sender or subject you want gone and select a recent message matching what you had in mind. If it’s a mailing list you want to escape (as opposed to a short-shelf-life list with content you read once), open it to click its unsubscribe link.
  • If the organization involved has you on multiple lists, select a message you know you don’t want, click the vertical ellipsis above it, select “Filter messages like these,” and in the filter dialog, click the blue Search button. That should collect only messages on the same list–for instance, marketing updates but not purchase receipts.
  • Click the checkbox at the top left corner of the search results to select every message on the page. If more than 100 surfaced, click “Select all conversations that match this search” (as in,  where Gmail should report how many matched your query and what they added up to).
  • Click the trash icon.

There are better ways to help people deal with high-volume mailing lists, and one of Google’s competitors in email provided a good example almost nine years ago: Microsoft’s Outlook.com lets you set “sweep” filters that automatically delete matching messages after a set interval.

Google, meanwhile, continues to act as if it’s made deleting messages obsolete even as it steps up efforts to charge for storage.

Google could also improve its messaging about those extra-storage prices: Unless you know you will conquer your storage dilemma in the next few months, you should probably ignore Google’s advertised $1.99 monthly rate for its entry-level 100-gigabyte plan and pay the 16% cheaper $19.99 annual rate instead.

Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, email Rob at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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