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Google Drive does a surprise rollout of file limits, locking out some users

Enlarge / The Google Workspace icons.


“Please delete 2 million files to continue using your Google Drive account.” That was the message that Reddit user ra13 woke up to one day. Google apparently decided to put a hard limit on the number of files you’re allowed to have on one Google Drive account. Google rolled out this file limit without warning anyone it would happen. Users over the limit found themselves suddenly locked out of new file uploads, and it was up to them to figure out what was going wrong.

Did we mention this all started in February? A post on the Google Drive API issue tracker shows some users have been seeing this error for almost two months now. The original message said: “The limit for the number of items, whether trashed or not, created by this account has been exceeded.” And sometime in March, it was updated to say, “Error 403: This account has exceeded the creation limit of 5 million items. To create more items, move items to the trash and delete them forever.” Since there is nothing anywhere that informs users Google Drive has a file limit, users originally thought this was a bug and asked Google to quickly fix it. It has been two months now, though, and Google has not issued a public response. Some users say they have gotten Google Support to privately confirm the limit is intended, and a pop-up message is starting to show up in the Drive UI for some users.

It might be understandable to limit a data hog abusing a free account, but that’s not what’s happening here. Google is selling this storage to users, via both the Google Workspace business accounts and the consumer-grade Google One storage plans. Google One tops out at 30TB of storage, which costs an incredible $150 a month to use. Google Workspace’s formal plans cap out at 5TB, but an “Enterprise” plan promises “As much storage as you need.” From what we can tell in the various comments on Reddit and the issue tracker, both consumer and business account types are subject to this hidden 5 million file limit.

Google Drive has a file-sharing limit of 400,000 files, but that’s easy to work around by just unsharing files—you don’t have to delete anything. This limit is also thoroughly documented in Google’s support articles. The 5 million total file cap isn’t documented anywhere, and remember, it has been two months since this rolled out. It’s not listed on the Google One or Google Workspace plan pages, and we haven’t seen any support documents about it. Google also doesn’t have any tools to see if you’re getting close to this file limit—there’s no count of files anywhere. We’ve emailed Google a ton of questions and will update this if we hear back.

Five million 4KB files would take up 20GB of storage, so that file limit is nowhere near enough for Google customers to use the storage they are actually buying. You could very easily store billions of files in 30TB of space. Even if Google is going to somehow argue this limit is acceptable, it’s inexcusable to make this a surprise for paying customers. Google knows the right way to do this: you email everyone, you make a blog post, and you post a pop-up warning message in the Drive UI, and you do this all months ahead of actually rolling out the change. Especially for Workspace business customers, which are supposed to be paying for a more stable version of Google’s services with a slow rollout, a surprise change is just baffling.

(Update, 5:57 pm: A Google spokesperson confirmed to Ars that the file limit isn’t a bug, calling the 5 million file cap “a safeguard to prevent misuse of our system in a way that might impact the stability and safety of the system.” The company clarified that the limit applies to “how many items one user can create in any Drive,” not a total cap for all files in a drive. For individual users, that’s not a distinction that matters, but it could matter if you share storage with several accounts.

Google added, “This limit does not impact the vast majority of our users’ ability to use their Google storage.” and “In practice, the number of impacted users here is vanishingly small.”)


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