Online storage provider Pogoplug offers what seems like an incredible deal for keeping your data safe in the cloud. For $50 per year, the company promises "unlimited" data backups, supposedly ideal for preserving your cherished photos and videos.
But over the last few weeks, some Pogoplug users have run into a previously undisclosed catch: If you upload more than 1 TB of data, your upload speeds could be throttled.
Jimmy Cohrssen, a professional photographer, discovered this while using Pogoplug to back up his pictures. Cohrssen signed up for Pogoplug roughly eight months ago, and had stored 6 TB worth of photos on Pogoplug's servers. He had no complaints until earlier this month, when the same 500 photo uploads that used to take an hour or two were suddenly taking days to complete.
"Their advertising is very deceptive, really pushing the idea that they are one of the only services out there that provides unlimited services, when the truth is the opposite," Cohrssen said in an e-mail.
Cohrssen spent weeks hassling Pogoplug tech support, until they finally offered him a pro-rated refund. He's still deciding what to do, and isn't thrilled with the prospect of re-uploading 6 TB of files to another service like Backblaze or Drivepop.
Eventually, in response to weeks of complaints, Pogoplug gave an explanation to affected users. In a message drafted by Chief Product Officer Jed Putterman and distributed by the company's tech support, Pogoplug said that it has to divvy up its limited bandwidth among heavier users to keep things fair for everyone:
Our primary goal is to get people’s initial back up done as fast as possible. In order to do this, for the first 1TB of storage we allow files to be backed up as fast as our users can send them. We chose this amount of storage because we felt it was well beyond the initial amount that people would need to back up to feel safe. For users beyond 1TB, we take our remaining bandwidth and evenly distribute it across those users. We are constantly adding additional bandwidth and infrastructure, and when we do everybody benefits.
In an interview, Pogoplug CEO Daniel Putterman further explained that the company uses lots of other factors to prioritize speeds. For instance, streaming video gets greater priority so that users don't get any interruptions while watching. The 1 TB throttling cutoff was actually a response to users who wanted fast speeds on their initial backups.
"There's this long list of QoS-related features, because if you don't do that, you're going to have a crummy cloud," Putterman said.
Danny Dausend, another Pogoplug user, said the sudden throttling was a "huge surprise," given that there was no indication of the policy before he signed up. Like Cohrssen, he's also not sure what to do now. "I need to find a new place to house my stuff," Dausend said in an e-mail. "But I have over 1.8 TB, and that's not an easy task."
Putterman said the company debated for several weeks whether to reveal the throttling policy, because it's just one of many factors that can affect speeds. "The point is, there's so many of them, why isolate this one?" Putterman said.
Still, Putterman acknowledged that Pogoplug could be more transparent about its policies. He said the company would at least consider adding some disclosure to its terms of service.
"We're going to be, probably, very open, and dramatically more so than other companies in the space, and hopefully we'll set an example for others," Putterman said.
There is another silver lining for affected users: A few days ago, Pogoplug discovered and fixed a failed port that may have caused some of the more drastic speed issues. The fix doesn't explain the previous weeks of complaints, but some users on Pogoplug's forums have indeed reported speed improvements over the last few days. Putterman also pointed out that if users were able to upload more than 1 TB in past, that means most of the time, Pogoplug is able to offer a satisfactory level of service.
Still, Pogoplug can't predict every spike in demand, especially as it works to acquire users in new ways, such as a recent promotional deal with Sprint. With finite bandwidth and no guarantee that users won't notice slower speeds in the future, the best thing Pogoplug can do is stop leaving its users in the dark.