The Worst Overage Policy On Earth: An Open Letter to Dropbox

I’ve been a huge Dropbox fan for many years, recommending the service enthusiastically to anyone who will listen.

(My workshop iPad Essentials for School Leaders has been taken by over 700 administrators, who have heard me rave about the effortless way Dropbox integrates with many iPad apps and other services).

Unfortunately, the $10 billion company has a little-known policy that’s making me reconsider.

Not The Kind of Limit You’d Expect

I have a paid ($9.99/month) 100GB account with Dropbox. The main features of the service are that it allows you to store, sync, and share files.

This last feature, sharing, is one that I rely on heavily to distribute HD video recordings of my workshops to my clients.

There are two ways to share files with Dropbox—either with a specific Dropbox user, or with anyone who has the link.

Since not all my workshop participants have Dropbox accounts, and since the files are too big for free accounts anyway (up to 3GB), I use the public link-sharing feature, and trust my clients not to share the links.

Dropbox allows users’ public links to consume up to 200GB per day of bandwidth, which is extremely generous. I can’t get that much bandwidth for under $10 anywhere, so I’m certainly not complaining about the limit itself.

The problem is what happens when you go over that limit.

How Dropbox Handles Excessive Bandwidth Usage

With most web-based services and hosting companies, if you go over your limit, you’re either charged overage fees, or your account is disabled until you figure out what to do and/or until the meter resets.

Dropbox says:

For our advanced users: Banned links

We ban shared and Public folder links when they’re responsible for an uncommonly large amount of traffic, or when they violate our Acceptable Use Policy (such as spam or malware). Find out more.

A reasonable person would assume that if you hit 200GB in a single day, your links will stop working for the rest of the day, then work again the next day, when your new 200GB allotment kicks in. And that’s pretty much what happens…the first two times. You get a nice email telling you that you went over the limit, and that you can login and reactivate your links immediately.

So far, this is a pretty good setup—I certainly like to know if I use that much bandwidth, because it means a lot of people are downloading my files, and it might mean a link was shared too widely. (Incidentally, Dropbox has a great feature that lets you revoke a public link without removing the file.)

The second time, though, your links stay broken for a fixed period (24 hours, if I recall correctly). Again, no big deal—24 hours later, my bandwidth allocation would reset and I’d be back in business. And while the public links are deactivated, you can still sync with your own devices and collaborators who have their own Dropbox accounts.

But what happens next is exceedingly odd, something I’ve never seen with any web service.

In fact, I can’t think of any comparable scenario in any industry. It’s simply baffling.

After your 2nd overage, you’re subjected to an escalating period of banishment. My 3rd and current ban is 5 days long, and I don’t even want to know how long the 4th and beyond will be.

No, there’s nothing about this on the Dropbox website, in the help docs, or in the terms of service. It’s a complete surprise, and completely out of sync (pun intended) with how every other service in the world handles overages.

Piracy

Of course, Dropbox has this banishment policy to deal with piracy, which I’m sure is a big problem when you make it easy for people to share big files with lots of people very cheaply.

The problem is, Dropbox is a service for sharing big files with lots of people very cheaply. That’s what I’m paying for. I’m using the service as it’s intended. I run a business in which I create original HD training videos that I distribute to my clients via my paid Dropbox account.

Yet Dropbox sees no reason to treat me differently from someone pirating Disney movies.

No Analytics, No Warning, No Recourse

After the first overage, I logged into my Dropbox account to see which files were being downloaded.

I had just sent out a workshop recording, but the numbers didn’t quite add up. With my email service provider, I can see how many times the links were clicked, and the number of clicks didn’t come close to what it would take to use up 200GB of bandwidth in a single day.

So I figured it was existing clients downloading older workshops and materials, which is entirely possible. I have over 1500 clients and some 80GB of HD video in Dropbox, all shared with (secret) public links.

But astoundingly, Dropbox provides no analytics on bandwidth usage. I can’t see which files were downloaded, or how much of the usage was linked to which folders, or anything at all.

In fact, you can’t even see how much bandwidth you’ve used. You only find out when you go over, which is how I got so deep in this mess.

For more than a year, I’ve been using Dropbox extensively to share my workshop videos with clients. I had no idea I was in danger of using too much bandwidth, and in fact no way to find out.

With a normal web server, log files reveal exactly which files were accessed at what times. This information is essential in figuring out what’s causing excessive usage.

With most web services, you get detailed analytics on your usage, so you can make adjustments to stay within the limits.

And with some other web services, like YouTube, usage isn’t metered, so it’s a non-issue.

With Dropbox, instead of logs, stats, and analytic tools, you get this charming explanation in their FAQ:

How do I know which links contributed most to the ban? Can you provide traffic data for my links?

Unfortunately, we’re not able to provide details on which of your links contributed most to your account going over the limit, or how much traffic each link generated.

Wait, so my usage is being metered, but Dropbox can’t be bothered to keep me in the loop?

If I get a big water bill, I can go outside and read the meter for myself. If the meter’s spinning when the faucets are all off, I’ll know I have a leak.

If I spend all the money in my bank account, I can at least see where it went.

By analogy, the Bank of Dropbox would never let you check your balance, wouldn’t give you a statement, and would put you in time-out when you ran out of money.

What Dropbox Support Says

In response to my support tickets, Dropbox staffers have simply reiterated the ban is in accordance with company policy, and sent me links to the explanations I’ve included above.

They don’t seem to have the power to reactivate my links, or to make any kind of exceptions to the escalating ban policy. I’ve asked repeatedly, and I’ve asked to speak to someone higher up the food chain, but to no avail.

Their suggested solution is to remove all of my public links and re-create them, which sounds reasonable until you consider that I have 80GB of files shared with more than fifteen hundred people. It would take weeks to break and remake the links, update my membership websites, email all my clients with an explanation, and so forth.

Even worse, this wouldn’t solve the problem; in fact, it would escalate it. If I email all my clients saying “here’s the new link,” what are they going to do? Click it and download the file, of course. I’d use 200GB in no time.

I don’t blame Dropbox for capping bandwidth usage at 200GB/day, and in fact, I’d be happier with a much lower limit (or a higher price for the service) if it were remotely possible to control my usage while still using the service as intended.

What To Do?

So, to recap:

  • I’m using a file-sharing service to (-gasp-) share files
  • There’s a 200GB/day cap, but I have no way to tell how much bandwidth I’m using until I’ve exceeded the cap
  • There’s no way to tell which files are being downloaded and contributing to the excessive usage
  • I’m banned for longer and longer each time this happens, so my clients can’t access the files
  • Company policy is to treat everyone like a pirate

It’s hard to move 80GB of files very quickly, but I’m in the process of moving my videos to Vimeo Pro, which offers analytics as well as very generous limits (no limit on plays, and 20GB/week upload bandwidth).

So, if you’re at all planning to use the “public links” feature of Dropbox, you might want to reconsider until the situation improves, and if you’re going to pay for a file-hosting service, you may want to look elsewhere.

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About Justin Baeder

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More »

Comments

  1. Mike Rogers says:

    What a terrible user experience! Have you considered using Box instead? I don’t know much about their policies but it might be worth checking in to.

  2. eduleadership says:

    Thanks Mike – I thought about it, but honestly Dropbox is still a really good fit for everything else it does for me (syncing among my own devices), and I can use Vimeo instead of public links.

    Box is definitely worth checking out…might have to start recommending it if the app support is there. Probably not as big a gap as there once was.
    I’d be very happy if Dropbox recognized my situation and gave support reps a little more discretion, as I realize my situation isn’t typical of their offending users. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

  3. Allie Kingsley says:

    Same experience and i have only few files with dropbox and they put a ban on my public links temporarily. They have ot mentioned a word of bandwidth anywhere. Clearly dropbox is the worse option for anything above medium traffic websites.

  4. Stuckya says:

    Same happened to me, several times. On your 3rd “violation”, the ban time is 30 DAYS. And yes, I’ve got the same copy-pasted reply from support, that Dropbox is not a “content delivery network”, yes they have the nerve to name it as “Pro”. But it gets better: I always had a MIRROR of my files on Mediafire.com that, now that has a Desktop sync app, is just as easy to use as Dropbox, and the same set of files, mirrored on Mediafire, where I DO have a Bandwidth meter, consumed about 1/8th of the bandwidth ALLEGELY used when they were on Dropbox. It’s no wonder they don’t offer you any bandwidth metering, it’s because the “generous” 250GB/day limit is NOT REAL!! They will ban you way sooner than that, and you have no means to check, no recourse, no advance warning, and no way to purchase bandwidth either. I suggest you have a look at Mediafire too: the Desktop sync app works just like Dropbox, there’s a lot of bandwidth available, and you can purchase additional bandwidth at any time, and even turn on “Auto-bandwidth” to purchase it automatically when approaching the limit, so you can be sure the service won’t be interrupted.

  5. Is bitttorent not a good solution?

  6. eduleadership says:

    No, not in a business context. BitTorrent requires a dedicated app and is blocked by most employers.

  7. Sduibek says:

    I am in a similar situation to this, the main difference being that mine is for a free hobbyist project versus business-related.

    It’s frustrating and unfortunate that they don’t take this issue seriously.

    Have you switched services, and if so, to whom?

  8. UPDATE WITH GOOD NEWS: For anyone who finds this later, it’s worth noting that I sent an “ultimatum” email to Dropbox support yesterday (they have no Phone or Live Chat contact options) and I basically said “I need to know when my shared links will be restored, or else I will cancel my paid subscription and not come back” and they did actually provide me the expected date of restore via email today. Cool.

    In my particular case, I was able to move the larger shared files to other free services, so with any luck, the pulling of my shared links won’t happen again.

    Just figured the update is useful to know that apparently they changed their mind about vague response, or, maybe if you send a demanding request they might be more likely to honor it. :P

  9. arstdhneio says:

    Sorry, but Dropbox is obviously a service for a persons *private* and professional needs, not video hosting. Personal backup, occational sharing of documents, file syncing as well as professional collaboration. However, it is not an instrument for what is essentially video hosting. Use one of the available tools for that instead, like vimeo, youtube, or even some more advanced service like Amazons cloud. Bandwith is not free, contrary to popular belief.

  10. eduleadership says:

    I’m not asking for free bandwidth, just the bandwidth I am paying for it, along with reasonable analytics to help me manage that consumption. I was using the service for video file distribution, not streaming video hosting.

  11. Hi there, i am in the same situation as yourself. I found your article on google looking for answers to our problem. The weirdest thing dropbox has just done is allowed me to host 2TB yes 2000GB of data in their cloud service, BUT! i have just been banned for the 5th time, and have just been informed that the bandwidth is still 200GB daily even though they have increased their storage to 2TB. I use mailbigfile for smaller files under 4GB, but a lot of my files are above 4GB, and am looking into google drive at the moment as a backup plan whilst i await the system response emails from dropbox… its like banging your head against a wall, well will they listen?

  12. I found your post searching for bandwidth limits as I was banned as well. Like you I figured after the day ended, the bandwidth would reset but was sadly mistaken. Since this was my first offense (sounds like I’m a criminal now!) I was able to remove the ban by just logging into my account.

    I sent videos to 50 people, each person was sent a random video, each video was exactly 25mb.

    If each person watched the video 1 time, that is 1.25 GB. According to DB, each person would have needed to watch the same video 16 times for me to hit my overage. By nature of these videos, nobody would want or need to watch them more than once. They’re testing videos, not anything someone would want to share.

    I don’t think DB gives info on total bandwidth because they’re not giving you the full amount.

  13. Box.com has strict limits on total file size…I think the max file size was 25mb.

  14. eduleadership says:

    Entirely possible, and the lack of transparency is a real trust-killer. We just have no way to know! What’s also frustrating is that for anyone distributing files that aren’t intended for public consumption, there’s the disconcerting possibility that someone is sharing your links. I don’t think my customers would ever do that, but there’s simply no good explanation other than that, or that Dropbox isn’t giving the full amount of bandwidth.

    I’ve also considered the possibility that my emails are being scanned (maybe by antivirus programs) and the download links are being hit by the scanning service, but that would show up in my email service provider’s click stats, which don’t add up to the usage I’m seeing.

  15. the lack of transparency is a real trust-killer. We just have no way to know!

    That’s the bottom line. I have a free account and a paid account. I upgraded to a pro account last week on one of my accounts and was going to upgrade the other one (which will solve my problem for now), but do I really want to upgrade or do I want to find a better solution?

  16. I had the same problem (found you through a Google search). I’ve upgraded to Dropbox PRO and have 1TB for $99 a year. I’m fine with the cost, but their bandwidth information is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. If they start to ban me, I’m outta here and will find someone else.

    It’s one thing if they published this information, but they make it exceedingly hard to find out.

  17. I ran into your exact problem, but being a tech guy I was determined to solve it. I just started renting a dedicated server all to myself. Unlimited bandwidth, its YOURS do what you want with, no limits etc. You can get a basic dedicated server ( which you can install Windows on if you want ) for 4.99 euro a month, thats pretty cheap when its unlimited bandwidth. Set up a simple web server, post your videos and give your clients the link. The videos will download directly from your server. No worrying about overages etc. I edit RAW mpeg4 videos for all kinds of companies, some of them are 30gb plus for one video. Sometimes clients want the raw video, and they download it. I have used over 1TB of bandwidth in a month.

    http://www.kimsufi.com/en/

    Let me know if you want some help with setting it up if you get one. So worth the money.

  18. I’m suffering my second ‘banishment’ currently and exploring alternatives. Had no idea there was any special activity, no analytics so no way to know.

    Will be migrating from Dropbox ASAP. Too bad, good service. But as you say — I’m not a criminal and I don’t appreciate being treated like one.

  19. John Smith says:

    This is a great article and points out how terrible Dropbox really is. The actual product serves a purpose and there are many cloud services out there. The customer service/support of Dropbox is horrendous – and for a paying customer at that!

    I have a Dropbox Pro account and host my high quality videos for my fans to download. Two days ago I got a ‘banned links’ email and found ZERO info on which file(s) caused the bandwith overage, by how much, etc. Like you say, no analytics, no info, zilch!

    I really need a service where I can host large video files and share the links with whomever I want and have tons of bandwidth (if needed).

    Can you recommend something better than Dropbox? I’m already paying $99/yr. so I’m willing to pay for a good service. I will be canceling my Dropbox subscription immediately – if I cancel now, I hope I can get a pro-rated refund.

    All that gleams is not gold!

    ThirtyIR

  20. Mengles says:

    If you use the “Sharing” feature, assuming the other person creates a free Dropbox, does that work to avoid that bandwidth limit issue?

  21. eduleadership says:

    I think so, but then that counts against the space usage for both of you.

  22. Mengles says:

    Oh, ok. So you can only share a Dropbox folder (with the Sharing function on the left-hand column) with them, if they have the equivalent space already on their Dropbox? I guess the point is moot if even after sharing, if they download it still counts against the 20 GB daily (free Dropboxes are 20 GB daily, instead of 200 GB). So irritating!

  23. eduleadership says:

    Yep – really tough to use Dropbox for multi-gig files. The limits just aren’t friendly for those sizes.

  24. Mengles says:

    I would use this new thing I just found called Orange Dox that works thru Dropbox: http://orangedox.com/. I believe it gives the analytics on file downloads. I’ll be seeing how well it works once I get off temporary suspension. lol!

  25. MARCO ESPINOZA says:

    Same terrible experience here I will move to ONE DRIVE, it is a lot better….

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