Free cloud storage vs. paid: Which is right for you?

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From storing important files to sharing photos with friends and family, cloud storage has made our lives easier and more convenient. But with so many free and paid storage options on the market, knowing which one to pick can be difficult. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, so the decision ultimately comes down to your specific needs and preferences.

Whether you’re a business owner looking to share work documents with your team or an individual user looking to keep your memories safe, this article will help you make an informed decision about which option is right for you. 

Why use free cloud storage?

Free cloud storage is an excellent option if you’re an individual or a small business on a budget. It allows you to store and share files for free without the need for expensive hardware and cloud subscriptions. However, most free cloud storage accounts offer between 2 and 10 GB of storage space. 

This makes free cloud storage ideal if you only need to store or share a few smaller files for a specific purpose rather than needing somewhere to back up your files. For example, if you’re a wedding videographer, you can use free cloud storage to send one or two sample videos to your client, but it wouldn’t make sense to use free cloud storage to store your entire portfolio.

Besides storage space, some free cloud storage providers also impose other restrictions, such as file size limits and the number of times you can use a file-sharing link. Proton Drive, for example, has no limits on the number of times you can share a file, but if you subscribe to a Free plan, you’re restricted to 1 GB of storage space. 

Why use paid cloud storage?

While free cloud storage can be a great option for some, it may not meet the needs of everyone. Paid cloud storage services offer additional benefits that may make them worth the investment. 

Increased storage space 

Paid cloud storage always comes with increased storage space. This can be crucial if you want to store a lot of files, especially large files such as videos and high-resolution images. Depending on the cloud provider you choose, your storage space may increase to anywhere between 200 GB to multiple TBs. You can also use the additional storage space to back up your files. 

Enhanced security 

Paid cloud storage services also often provide more robust security features, such as advanced encryption, two-factor authentication, and even automated backups. If you’re storing sensitive or confidential information, paid cloud storage will be the safer option.

Better performance

Paid cloud storage providers typically invest heavily in infrastructure, meaning you’ll enjoy faster upload and download speeds and reliable access to your files. Your paid cloud storage provider may also provide priority support and assistance, which is useful if you experience technical issues.

Compliance with legal regulations

If you own a business that deals with sensitive information, some paid cloud storage providers offer specific features and security measures to ensure compliance with legal regulations, such as HIPAA and GDPR. Additionally, your paid cloud storage provider may also undergo regular security audits and certifications, such as SOC 2(new window) (Service Organization Control 2), to demonstrate compliance.

Proton Drive Free vs. Proton Drive Plus and Proton Unlimited

Storing your files in the cloud instead of on physical storage devices can seem intimidating. Once your files are on a cloud service’s servers, they’re exposed to potential security threats, such as breaches, hackers, and third-party spies. 

We developed Proton Drive to eliminate this fear and help you take control of your data beyond email and VPN(new window). Since other cloud storage services, such as Google Drive and Dropbox, don’t use end-to-end encryption (E2EE) to protect your files, they can easily scan them and hand them over to third parties. This is because they store your private key alongside your data, meaning anyone at the company can decrypt your files at will. It also means that if these services suffer a data breach, your files can easily be unencrypted by the attackers.

With Proton Drive, all of your files are secured with E2EE, so nobody can access them without your knowledge:

  • They’re encrypted locally on your device before being uploaded to our servers, and only you have access to your private key. 
  • Your file’s metadata, including its file extension, file size, and thumbnail, is also automatically encrypted.
  • We use cryptographic signatures on all files and folders so they cannot be altered or tampered with. 
  • Even in the unlikely event that Proton Drive suffered a data breach, your files would remain securely encrypted.

And because we believe everyone deserves privacy, all of our plans — including our Free plan — come with the same security features, including:

If you’d like to support our mission of building a better, more private internet, consider signing up for a Free plan or upgrading to a paid plan. Once you have a Proton Drive account, all you need to do is upload your file and Proton Drive will handle the encryption for you.

Proton FreeProton Drive PlusProton Unlimited
Free forever3.49€ / month
83.76€ for 24 months

30-day money-back guarantee
7.99€ / month 
191.76€ for 24 months

30-day money-back guarantee
✔️ Up to 1 GB of storage
✔️ End-to-end encryption
✔️ 200 GB total storage
✔️ End-to-end encryption
✔️ Priority support
✔️ 500 GB total storage
✔️ End-to-end encryption
✔️ Priority support

Access to the entire Proton ecosystem, including all paid features:

✔️ Proton Mail
✔️ Proton Calendar
✔️ Proton VPN

And if you’re a business owner, we also offer business plans to keep your data secure.


Is Proton Drive free?

At Proton, we believe that everyone has the right to privacy. This is why we offer a free cloud storage option that lets you store up to 1 GB of files. Proton Drive is different from other cloud storage providers because we use end-to-end encryption to secure your files. No one can ever access your documents without your consent.

Is it necessary to pay for cloud storage?

If you have limited storage needs, it’s not necessary to pay for cloud storage. Most cloud providers offer up to 2 GB of free storage, which is plenty if you’re just an occasional user. If you’re looking for additional storage or premium features, upgrading to a paid plan would be the best option.

Which free cloud storage is best for personal use?

There are many cloud storage services on the market, but they’re not all made equal. While many cloud storage options are free, you’re actually paying for the service with your data. If privacy is your top concern, you should pick an encrypted cloud storage provider like Proton Drive.

Given our user-driven model, we will never show you ads or sell your data to advertisers. Our end-to-end and zero-access encryption also mathematically guarantees your privacy. Best of all, we offer a Free plan, giving you 1 GB of storage without any other limits.

Protect your privacy with Proton
Create a free account

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Lydia Pang

Lydia is a lifelong book-lover and her professional experience spans several industries, including higher education and editorial writing. She's excited to write for Proton and champion privacy as a fundamental right for everyone.

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