WhatsApp users could be hit with a new cost – but only if they use the messaging app on Android. Starting early next year, WhatsApp chat backups will count towards your Google account's cloud storage limit.
If you don't have enough free storage in your Google account, then you'll need to set-up a monthly Direct Debit. Prices start from £1.59 and rise to£7.99 per month, depending on how much storage you need.
Without a recent backup in the cloud, if you delete the WhatsApp app, or switch to a new phone, you could be left without any of your messages, group chats, pictures, or videos. Every Google account comes with 15GB of cloud storage for free. If your WhatsApp messages and media measure less than 15GB, you won't have to pay anything to keep everything securely backed up.
However, it's worth remembering that 15GB allowance isn't only used for WhatsApp backups. Android users can back up their Gmail messages, photos and videos, phone settings, contacts, call history, and much more. Even if you don't need to pay immediately ... long-term Android users will likely find that 15GB allowance will run out eventually.
The latest shake-up represents a dramatic U-turn from WhatsApp and Google, which removed chat backups from users' Google Drive storage back in 2018.
In a statement about the change, a spokesperson for Google said: "If you choose to enable WhatsApp backups on Android, personal Google Accounts come with 15GB of storage at no charge – 3x more than most mobile platforms – that’s shared across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos.
"WhatsApp backups on Android will continue to work, as long as you have available space within your Google Account storage. If you hit your storage limit, you’ll need to free up space to resume backups by removing items you do not need."
Google will begin to make the change to WhatsApp backups on Android for beta testers in December, before rolling out to millions of users worldwide early next year.
If you're worried about storage, it's a good idea to delete larger video files and photos from WhatsApp so these aren't backed up to the cloud. To do that, when viewing the Chats tab, head to the three-dot menu, then hit Settings > Storage and Data > Manage Storage.
To find some of the worst offenders, you can sort the files by items that have been forwarded many times, larger than 5MB, or sent within a specific chat. You can also sort by date as well as the size of the files.
You can also change how often WhatsApp will backup your files to the cloud – daily, weekly, or monthly. This is a bit of a balancing act as higher frequency means that you're unlikely to ever lose files or messages even if your phone is stolen or lost and you need to switch to a new handset. However, daily backups will use more cloud storage overall. WhatsApp offers an option not to back up videos, which is a great way to save space.
On the support pages of its website, WhatsApp warns: "If the amount of available storage on your device reaches critically low levels, WhatsApp might not function properly. If this happens, WhatsApp might prompt you to free up space in order to continue using the app."
If you use WhatsApp on iPhone, these changes probably sound pretty familiar. Backups on iOS have always been stored in iCloud, which has a 5GB storage allowance for free – 10GB less than Google offers its users.
Apple charges 99p for 50GB, £2.99 for 200GB, £8.99 for 2TB, £26.99 for 6TB, and an eye-watering £54.99 for 12TB every month.
Google account owners looking to boost their cloud storage will need to pay £1.59 for 100GB, £2.49 for 200GB, and £7.99 for 2TB. Unlike Apple, there are annual plans available too, which offer a 16% saving. For a limited time, Google has dropped the price of its 100GB plan down to just 39p for three months.