Although the convenience of having your digital documents backed up to the cloud and available everywhere was once a pricey privilege, Google will now enable your digital hoarding for the price of a fancy cup of coffee: 2TB of storage for just $10/month, and even more, if you need. But there’s another way to take advantage of Google’s vast expanse of cloud storage, and it’s completely free.
YouTube’s not only a great way to share videos with the world, it’s also a useful archive tool—assuming you don’t mind your video content being subjected to some aggressive video compression. According to Google, basic YouTube accounts can upload videos that are up to 15 minutes in length. But verified accounts push that limit to videos that are either 12 hours long or 256 GB in size, while the number of videos that can be uploaded every day seems to vary from user to user.
That’s a lot of data being pushed to the cloud without the user being charged, but does it have to be strictly video content? The answer is both yes and no, as YouTuber HistidineDwarf discovered. They created a tool called AKA ISG (Infinite-Storage-Glitch, which you can find on GitHub) that takes a single zip file containing other assorted files and converts it into a video with the data stream completely visualized across frames—but to human eyes, it looks like nothing but monochromatic noise. You can see a sample file uploaded to YouTube below, but those sensitive to flashing lights might not want to hit the play button.
When the uploaded data needs to be retrieved, the video file can be downloaded from YouTube again and decoded. It sounds simple, but there were quite a few challenges to make this happen, including the lingering question of whether or not this violates YouTube’s terms of service. (We’re betting Google will find a way to say it does, so maybe don’t store your only copy of important files this way.)
The biggest challenge was finding a way to prevent the uploaded data stream videos from being corrupted by video compression: a process that strives to shrink file sizes by often discarding or altering fine details in a video—which is exactly what these videos happen to contain. The solution was to ensure the fine details never get too fine or too small to be affected by YouTube’s compression algorithms, and by never using anything smaller than 2x2 blocks of pixels, this technique has managed to avoid corruption so far, but that could easily change with an algorithm tweak.
The downside to the overly-cautious error-proofing is that the file sizes of the videos produced are often four times larger than the original zip file containing the data. So if you’ve got a 1 GB zip, you’ll have to upload as much as 4 GB to YouTube. That could take a sizeable bite out of your internet bandwidth if you’re not lucky enough to have an unlimited data cap. Is it an ideal way to back up your data? Absolutely not, YouTube could delete a video containing all your wedding photos hidden away inside without so much as a warning. But it is completely free, which might make the risk worth it for those always eager to beat the system.