Is Amazon's online storage really 'unlimited'? Read the fine print

Amazon's Black Friday offer of "unlimited" storage in its Amazon Cloud Drive service has been getting plenty of attention. But read the terms of service before you dive in, and you'll find some substantial limits. Here are the details.

You might have missed it in the avalanche of Black Friday deals, but Amazon is offering a year of "unlimited online storage" in its Amazon Cloud Drive service. The deal is tempting: free with a qualifying purchase or $5 on its own for the first year.

It's a trial offer, with the price for the second and subsequent years rising to $60, and renewing automatically unless you say no.

I can tell that some of you are ready to begin migrating the 10 terabytes of data you stored in Microsoft's OneDrive before they killed that golden goose. May I suggest you first read the Amazon Cloud Drive Terms of Use?

When you do, you will discover that that word, unlimited, does not mean what you think it means.

This promotional copy from the "Unlimited Online Storage" offer page is a little more specific:

amazon-unlimited-storage-offer-2.jpg

And that's true. Amazon won't impose any limit on the number of files you can upload and store on its service. But Section 3.2 makes it clear there may be other restrictions, including types of files (system image backups? ripped copies of your Blu-ray collection?) and how you access the service:

Section 3.2 Usage restrictions and limits

The Service is offered in the United States. We may restrict access from other locations. There may be limits on the types of content you can store and share using the Service, such as file types we don't support, and on the number or type of devices you can use to access the Service. [emphasis added]

If that's not enough, that section ends with this open-ended statement: "We may impose other restrictions on use of the Service."

You should not plan on storing work-related files there, either, because commercial use is prohibited:

Section 1.2: No commercial use

You may use the Service only to store, retrieve, manage, and access Your Files for personal, non-commercial purposes using the features and functionality we make available.

The remainder of Section 1.2 includes some specific examples of prohibited usage. You cannot, for example, use Amazon Cloud Drive to "store, transfer or distribute content of or on behalf of third parties" or "operate your own file storage application or service" (that's what the commercial Amazon Web Services are for) You're also prohibited from using the service with a photography business or other commercial service.

And if you think you'll get past your first terabyte without being noticed, think again:

Section 5.2 Suspension and Termination.

Your rights under the Agreement will automatically terminate without notice if you fail to comply with its terms. We may terminate the Agreement or restrict, suspend or terminate your use of the Service at our discretion without notice at any time, including if we determine that your use violates the Agreement, is improper, substantially exceeds or differs from normal use by other users, or otherwise involves fraud or misuse of the Service or harms our interests or those of another user of the Service. If your Service Plan is restricted, suspended or terminated, you may be unable to access Your Files and you will not receive any refund of fees or any other compensation. [emphasis added]

What's "normal use by other users"? Who knows? I bet it's way less than even a single terabyte, and you probably don't want to find out the hard way.

That paragraph also contains the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card for Amazon: "If we determine that your use ... harms our interests," your account can be suspended or restricted.

And, of course, plan to keep paying. Because not renewing could mean that your files will be deleted.

Section 2.3: Downgrades and non-renewal

If you no longer have a Service Plan or exceed your Service Plan's storage limit, including by downgrading or not renewing your Service Plan or no longer qualifying for an Additional Benefit, we may delete or restrict access to Your Files.

TANSTAAFL.