Apple says iCloud storage is full, but it's not

I received an email from iCloud indicating I had used more than half of my 5 GB of storage. I logged into iCloud (separately, not via any links in the email) and the settings indicate I still have 4GB left.

As far as I know, I have only one iCloud account and the email I received the message at is the one I used to login.

I’d say the email might be a scam, but the links in it are to Apple sites. Is Apple just bad at math? Is there some other place I should be looking?

It could easily be a scam. I routinely see in-app ads on my phone claiming that my storage is full (it’s not even close) and that I need to buy their super special clean-up app in order to be able to continue using it.

That having been said, if it’s not a scam, it could have been something temporary. If you have something that automatically copies files to iCloud (maybe backups), then you might have temporarily gone over 50%. Maybe during the time between when it uploaded a new backup and when an old one was deleted.

If the usual iCloud controls on your Mac, iPhone and web site don’t show anything unusual, I wouldn’t worry about it.

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My mother is routinely fooled by these ads, and the first time she showed me one, it took me a second to realize it was an ad, not a real notification. These kinds of deceptive ads should be prohibited.

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A close friend of mine started receiving those messages a couple of weeks ago. She suspected a scam. Then her email started bouncing with a “quota exceeded” message. It strained credibility, as she is only a minimal user of computers. Digging through her iCloud settings showed that 2.8GB of storage was being used for backup of a Messages conversation that consisted of a half-dozen exchanges of short text-only messages. Deleting that conversation didn’t help. Removing Messages from iCloud entirely didn’t help. Signing out of her iCloud account (on this, her only Apple device) and signing back in didn’t help. Rebooting the iPhone didn’t help.

At every turn she was pestered over and over and over again with “You need to upgrade to iCloud+ for only 99¢/month!!” messages. I can only imagine that she concluded that this is Apple’s way of selling services through neglect and incompetence. “Our services are badly broken, so just buy more of them!”

After almost three days of exchanges and many hours on the phone with Apple Support, the problem now seems to be resolved but no explanation was ever given.

Cloud services can and will disappear at any time and without notice and often no recourse. Apple’s are no exception.

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I got such a message six months ago, with the subject You’ve used over 50% of your iCloud storage.

You’re using iCloud Drive to keep your documents safely stored in iCloud.
To automatically upload your photos and videos to iCloud and free up space on your iOS devices, we recommend you turn on iCloud Photos. You can also keep all of your apps automatically backed up each night if you turn on iCloud Backup.
So far, you’ve filled up over half of your free 5 GB of iCloud storage. For $0.99 a month, you can get 50 GB of storage. Get more storage.
The iCloud Team

I wasn’t clever enough to realize it was an advertisement. I checked my iCloud usage (it was under 1 GB), wondered what was going on, worried briefly, got distracted by some bright and shiny object, and came across this thread six months later.

Well, partially by accident, that’s what I did (or did not). Like @jgold, I wonder if Apple is bad at math, which seems to be the less offensive alternative.

What you likely needed to do was bring up the “About This Mac” window and click the “Manage…” button in the Storage panel. Then you can explicitly delete items stored by Messages.

If you disable “Enable Messages in iCloud”, I think the stuff sticks around for something like 30 days before it’s permanently deleted.

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Good to know, but it was an iPhone. She doesn’t have a Mac.

It does look like there’s a similar feature on the iPhone in the iCloud settings, but when I tried pulling up here, it didn’t show anything to delete, though it reported 5+ GBs used.

To follow up on this. if you go into the iCloud Storage on any device, you will have the opportunity to turn off iCloud messages and delete any in iCloud. The commentary on that button says that you will have 30 days to download the messages that will be deleted.