Google just made a huge change to how WhatsApp backups work on Android

WhatsApp logo on a phone screen
(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

WhatsApp is just about the most important app on my phone; it's what I use to talk to my friends and family, interact with PR folks, and connect with businesses to get more details on a product. While it isn't as widely used in North America, it is an essential part of life in India, and I don't know anybody who doesn't use the service daily.

When you use WhatsApp on Android, all the data that you accumulate on the service — including chats, images, and videos — gets backed up to Google Drive should you wish to enable the feature. Doing this allows you to seamlessly transfer between phones without losing any chat-related data, and as someone who switches between devices bi-weekly, this is a feature that's integral to how I use a phone.

WhatsApp uses Google Drive to store the data, it relies on Google's cloud service; this is how the service works on an iPhone as well, where it stores data on iCloud. The key difference on Android is that all the data that's stored by WhatsApp didn't count toward your Google Drive quota; so even if you used Google's free 15GB storage tier that's standard with all accounts, any data stored on WhatsApp wouldn't alter that quota.

However, now on, your WhatsApp data will start counting toward your Google Drive storage quota, and the worst part is that users aren't being grandfathered in; if you have a sizable chunk of data in WhatsApp, it will immediately reflect in your Google account. My WhatsApp backup is at 9.3GB including photos and videos, and that's now starting to count toward my Google Drive quota.

The change in policy states that, backing up WhatsApp on Android will be "in line with how it works on other platforms," and that future backups will work provided you have enough space on your Google account. Google is directing its users to Google One's storage management tools to delete large videos, or do so within WhatsApp itself.

Obviously, Google is doing this to push more users to pay up for Google One; removing unlimited free uploads from Google Photos in 2021 was also spurred by the same motive. Google says it will offer one-time Google One promotions to those users affected by the move, but it's annoying that the tech giant is counting WhatsApp data toward Drive quota in the first place.

WhatsApp has over 550 million users in India, and Android has a 95% market share in the country. With the upcoming change to WhatsApp and the lack of unlimited uploads on Google Photos, hundreds of millions of users that are on the standard 15GB quota will run out of storage on their Google accounts, and a good chunk of that user base will be unwilling to pay for additional storage plans.

Google Photos rose to prominence because it allowed unlimited uploads, and taking that away has inconvenienced a lot of users. Similarly, WhatsApp usage was unfettered in countries like India because you could share as much data as you wanted and not have it deter your Google account quota. I get that Google doesn't want to provide unlimited data, but this just feels like a bait-and-switch. If you start seeing a message that your Google account is about to run out of storage, you know who to blame.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.