Windows 11 now turns on OneDrive folder backup without your permission

With a clean Windows 11 setup, OneDrive now automatically backs up your desktop, pictures, documents, music, and videos, whether you want it to or not. Here's why this could create a problem - and how to turn it off.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
The folder backup screen in OneDrive
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Microsoft often fiddles with Windows in ways that benefit the company, but not necessarily its users. The latest example affects OneDrive in Windows 11.

OneDrive can back up and synchronize certain files and folders, such as your documents, music, and pictures. In the past, the Windows 11 setup would ask you if you wanted these folders backed up, giving you a clear choice. Well, no more.

Also: 7 ways to make Windows 11 less annoying

In a change to the Windows 11 setup spotted by Neowin, you're no longer asked about folder backup. Instead, the backup is automatically enabled by default without your permission. There's no notification or warning in Windows 11. The only way you'd find out is by noticing that the folders are being backed up.

To confirm Neowin's findings, I ran a clean Windows 11 setup on several PCs. At no time did the setup ask me if I wanted to enable folder backup, as it had done in the past. Afterward, checking the backup setting in OneDrive showed me that the backups were turned on for Documents, Pictures, Desktop, Music, and Videos.

Sure, backing up important folders and files is a good thing. If you ever lose a critical or irreplaceable document or photo, you'd be happy to have a backup from which to restore that file. As a OneDrive user, I appreciate being able not only to back up key folders and files, but to sync them across all my PCs and other devices.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of issues here.

First, Microsoft is once again taking away its users' choice. Also, the company made this folder backup change without any notice or announcement, catching users by surprise.

Several people on Reddit have been complaining about the change, expressing confusion over the new green checkmarks next to files and shortcuts on their desktops. (The checkmarks indicate that OneDrive backed up the files.)

Also: The best cloud storage services: Expert tested

Second, the automatic folder backup may cause you to hit a OneDrive storage limit. By default, Windows users get 5GB of OneDrive space for free. You could easily have more than 5GB worth of photos, videos, and other files.

Need more storage? Well, you'll have to spend money on a paid Microsoft 365 plan (even if you don't want or need Microsoft 365). This latest change seems like another way for Microsoft to lock people into its products and subscriptions.

Fortunately, you can turn off the folder backup. If you don't have enough space or simply don't need the backup option, right-click on the OneDrive icon in the Windows 11 System Tray and select Settings. Go to the section for "Sync and backup" and click the "Manage backup" button for "Back up important PC folders to OneDrive." Then, turn off the switch for any folder that you don't want backed up. You can turn them all off, or just certain ones.

Editorial standards