dropbox on fire

Dropbox 101: Navigating the internet’s most popular file-storing service.

Dropbox is an independent, self-owned file sharing service that allows users to store and share files within a remote data cloud. Founded in 2007 by students from MIT, Dropbox is, unlike alternative services such as Google Drive, is independently owned by Dropbox Incorporated. Dropbox has gone through numerous changes in code, but the core features and capabilities of the app have remained relatively unchanged since its founding. In this article, we will go over the basic and advanced features of Dropbox and how to effectively use them, as well as some important information to keep in mind as you use it.

How to Install Dropbox

While Dropbox is perfectly functional within a web browser, and therefore downloading the desktop app isn’t strictly necessary, it is required for synchronizing files between computers. 

In order to download the app, go to Dropbox’s install page, found here, and download the version that fits your operating system. Dropbox will automatically search your computer to identify your operating system and provide options that work for you. After downloading the installer, simply run the .exe file and Dropbox will automatically install on your computer.

How to Uninstall Dropbox

If you don’t want the Dropbox desktop app anymore, you can just uninstall the app from within your operating system. Dropbox won’t leave behind any trackers or intrusive files after being uninstalled.

How to use Dropbox

When you first open Dropbox, you will have two gigabytes of storage for your personal files. You can add files or folders to Dropbox manually, by clicking the dark blue Upload button, then click either Files or Folder from the dropdown menu. Alternatively, you can open your file browsing system outside of Dropbox, then drag and drop the files or folders into your Dropbox storage.

This is what Dropbox looks like when you first create your account.

Once you have downloaded a file, you can do all sorts of things with it. To see your options, click on the file or files you want to work on, and they will appear.

To open the dropdown menu containing the expanded options, click on the three dots to the right of the Copy tab.

When you select Share, Dropbox will generate a link that you can copy and share at your leisure; as well as the option to directly send the link via email or to another Dropbox account. In the Transfer tab, instead of generating a link, you can send the files themselves. The link generated will send users to a new location in Dropbox, referred to as the file’s Transfer, where they can download the file, instead of going to the file in your Dropbox. As with sharing, the link can also be sent via email.

What is Dropbox Premium?

With a free Dropbox account, you get all the basic features of Dropbox, with data limitations: A 2 GB limit on storage, and a 100MB limit on transfers. Dropbox will only offer expanded storage and transfer capacity with one of several paid subscription plans. These plans are:

  • Dropbox Plus: 2 terabytes of storage, 2 gigabytes of transfer capacity. $9.99/month 
  • Dropbox Family: Same as Plus, but shared across six accounts. $16.99/month
  • Dropbox Professional: 3 terabytes of storage, 100 gigabytes of transfer capacity. $16.58/month
  • Dropbox Standard: 5 terabytes of storage, 2 gigabytes of transfer capacity. Only available to groups of 3 or more. $12.50/user/month
  • Dropbox Advanced: Unlimited data storage, 100 gigabytes of transfer capacity. Only available to groups of 3 or more. $20/user/month

For a more detailed overview on how Dropbox’s plans compare to each other, readers can consult Dropbox’s visual guide here.

Why use Dropbox?

Dropbox is a user-friendly file storage and sharing service, that is unaffiliated with major tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, or any others. It can be very useful for artists to share their work with commissioners, family or friends who want a central location to exchange photographs or mementos, and for workers to collaborate on shared files with minimal confusion.

Why not use Dropbox?

However, Dropbox is far from perfect. There are numerous privacy issues concerning the service, ranging back to the beginning of the 2010s. In 2011, users noticed Dropbox’s policy of File Deduplication when storing user files (more details can be found here), which put users at risk of having their privacy compromised by hackers or federal law enforcement. In 2013, top secret NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the federal government was considering adding Dropbox to the list of companies in its infamous PRISM surveillance program.

 

How secure is Dropbox?

These isolated incidents, however, are less important than Dropbox’s lackadaisical attitude towards user privacy: While Dropbox does use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption on their user’s data, they do not use end-to-end encryption. This means that they hold a copy of the decryption codes to all their user’s files. And since these keys are available to all Dropbox employees, your privacy on Dropbox can be compromised on a whim.

Less concerning, but still damning, is their constant insistence on selling the user a premium account. 2 gigabytes of storage capacity fills up faster than you might think, especially when images and videos are stored. If the user wishes to use Dropbox as long-term file storage, or even as a replacement for physical hard drive storage, they will have to shell out monthy or yearly payments if they don’t wish to be constantly juggling files in and out of their Dropbox.

This is all not to say that Dropbox is bad and you should feel bad for using it. Dropbox can be an incredibly useful tool for sharing and/or distributing files, despite the risks. As long as you are aware of the potential consequences of using the service, Dropbox can be a safe, useful tool for sharing files and storing important data. However, if you’re looking for a free, long-term storage service, you should look elsewhere. Or, if you’re looking for a secure, privacy-guaranteed service for storing file backups, I would recommend looking at Dropbox’s contemporaries, such as SpiderOak or Tarsnap.



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