back to article Gmail users howl in anguish at 'disappeared' accounts

Tens of thousands of Gmail users have at least temporarily lost months or years of messages and chat dialogues after Google accidentally reset their accounts on Sunday. The bug left affected an estimated 150,000 users with blank slates. Surfers who re-established accounts were confronted only by welcome to Gmail messages. Any …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    another googlefuck

    and they still expect us to trust our life to "the cloud"?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      errr... nope

      Of course, like much of this stuff, it's a free service, so nobody really has a right to complain and one would hope nobody keeps anything critical on it, no? (yea, right!).

      On the other hand, I completely agree with you - there is no way I would trust any data to some anonymous "cloud". I stopped using other people's email servers years ago because I simply did not trust them, and I have yet to see any reason to start trusting them again. Renaming this stuff "cloud" doesn't make it any more reliable, oddly enough.

      Maybe if you stored your data on multiple "clouds" then there's a better chance of holding on to it in the event of a problem. As long as those separate "clouds" are not actually just virtual instances of the same underlying cloud of course ...but how would you know?

      1. Bill Fresher
        Thumb Down


        Isn't google's primary business model to provide free services which bring in a lot of users so that other companies will pay for advertising to those users?

        In other words the money google makes is down the services it provides to the users being paid for (by advertising revenue).

    2. ArmanX

      I've lost data all over the place...

      Storage is storage - maybe more reliable or less, but nothing is 100% reliable. My first lost files were on a 5 1/4 inch floppy, but I've lost information from just about every technology out there: floppy disks, zip disks, USB drives, CDs, DVDs, SCSI drives, PATA/SATA drives, RAID arrays (1, 0+1, 5), network shares - even hard copies. I've lost data from "The Cloud", and I've lost data locally. I've lost data because it was corrupted, because it was was physically lost, and because the drive it was stored on was damaged.

      But you know what? Apart from one disk, I've had backups of all the data I wanted to keep - even the cloud stuff. If something is important to you, no matter what it is, you should have a complete backup of it. All my really, really important files aren't kept on Google's servers; they're stored in my bank, in a lock-box, on both a hard drive and DVDs.

      I don't care what "They" expect; I back up my data, regardless of where it is.

      1. Jean-Luc
        Thumb Up

        good point, but...

        This is gmail and the backup solution is actually pretty easy - download your mail to a local mail agent while leaving it up on gmail itself. This is what I do. Email has pretty standardized formats and protocols which helps tremendously.

        In different cloud contexts there may not be an easy way to capture what is stored on "their" servers and store it locally in a form you can then make sense of. Depends on their APIs. Delicious has a querying API for example, so I can export my bookmarks with a home cooked Python script, but can't import it elsewhere.

        Backups and not having cloud vendor lock-in are related concept, IMHO. If you can export your data in a re-importable format, then you're OK with doing your backups. Not so much otherwise.

  2. Tom_

    What's the best way to back up a GMail account?

    I have about 2GB of data in my GMail account and stories like this make me very nervous.

    Can anyone suggest a good, practical way of backing that data up, please?

    1. Rishi

      Backup Gmail....

      Plently of ways to backup.... any IMAP or GMAIL client... a paid product is also good.

      But to trust GMail blindly is just silly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: What's the best way to back up a GMail account?

      Backup to Outlook via Pop3 is a easy nontechnical solution.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: the best way to backup

        POP3 would allow you to backup your mail, but not restore it. Better than nothing, I suppose, but you'd never again have those messages available to you when you were away from home. That would seem to defeat one of the touted advantages of webmail.

        Is there a way of backing up gmail that allows you to restore your messages to the cloud once google have finished screwing up?

        1. Ammaross Danan

          @Ken Hagen

          "POP3 would allow you to backup your mail, but not restore it. Better than nothing, I suppose, but you'd never again have those messages available to you when you were away from home. That would seem to defeat one of the touted advantages of webmail."

          POP3 has a checkbox option of "Leave messages on the server." Check that and your emails are not deleted, thus leaving the messages online and accessible. Simples.

          1. rmacd

            Read before you click

            Yes, there's the option to 'Leave messages on the server' - but learn to read.

            However as Ken rightly said, there's no easy way of restoring the mails if deleted from the server, unless you've got some way of untar'ing your maildir mails (*having converted them from Thunderbird's native implementation of mbox, for example) straight onto your mail root.

      2. Goat Jam

        Oh Yes

        Let's backup our mail into a proprietary binary blob that has known stability problems when its .pst file grows past 2gb in size.

        No thanks.

        Emails should be archived in such a way that each individual mail is accessible without requiring a particular software product.



      Just download your email often to you computer and stick it on a USB drive. if its not possible to archive messages to a local disc, then you could set upa forward to automcatiicaly send all messages you send or recieve to another cloud based Email account.

      I run my own a nice postfix/dovecot/Spamass set-up running rather nicely with rsnapshot running hourly backups. Much preferable to any gmail yahoo hotmail etc service around.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Was gonna say

        Before it was pointed out already... set your GMail account to POP3 enabled and then just create another GMail/Hotmail/Yahoo account to retrieve from your primary account. It won't keep all your tag information but at least you'll have another online backup.

    4. David 45

      Don't use webmail!

      Set up an e-mail client (I use Thunderbird) to download messages to your computer. There are independent programs to back up mail. I can never see the point of having to bring up a browser to view mail, especially as I have several accounts from different providers. It won't stop outages such as this but at least you will have mails stored locally.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Backing up Gmail

      Try doing what I do, nice and simple -

      1. I switched from using IMAP to POP, less connection delays and you get all the messages locally. If you are using Outlook you can select to also keep the messages on the server, so if you lose them on Gmail then you will still have them locally. Also whilst travelling I can still check all incoming emails via IMAP on my smartphone, or any other location.

      2. I discovered Mailstore. It can backup Outlook, or connect directly to Gmail or any other email account and it downloads everything. Has powerful search as well. Home version is incredibly free, or office version starts with 5 licenses for around €250 and has extra features. It is excellent.

    6. Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's the best way to back up a GMail account?

      For first hand, Tom_, any IMAP-capable, old-school, non-cloud email client will do.

      You could also give Mailstore ( a try.


  3. There's a bee in my bot net

    Welcome to the cloud...

    ...where dreams and data are but vapour.

    1. Annihilator
      Thumb Up

      re: Welcome to the cloud

      Vague, fluffy, and liable to piss all over you at a moment's notice.

  4. MrCheese

    Cloud will save us all eh?

    "The cause of the snafu remains unclear, though it does illustrate the need to back up important messages instead of blindly trusting cloud-based services, despite the fact that locally held data is far more likely to be destroyed by hardware failure or similar data loss."

    Sounds like an oxymoron to me, having been fed all the marketing snakeoil expousing the wonders of the Cloud it turns out that for now at least my local held data are far safer on a flash drive than if I were to entrust them to someone apparently adept at cloudy goodness such as Google.

    Cloud Computing: The Strongest of the Fail Ales

    1. DrunkenMessiah


      Given the rate of failure for flash drives, I'd recommend that if you were to do this, you also store that critical data elsewhere, preferably in a RAID configuration.

      You might not like it, but your local disks (hard, flash or otherwise) are much more likely to fail and be unrecoverable than a huge cluster of Google/MS/BlahCorp disks. I'm also hoping that Google et al are more diligent with backups than my dad is.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @DrunkenMessiah is rather like the smug argument about the safety of flying. What are your chances of getting into an air crash? Slim to none. Okay, so what are your chances of SURVIVING an air crash? Slim to none. That's right, boys and girls. The odds of getting into an air crash are pretty small, especially if you do not do much flying. On the other hand, the chances of your getting out of an air crash alive are just as small as those of you getting into a crash situation in the first place.

        Compare this to travel by automobile. The chances of your getting into a car crash are fairly good, but then so are the chances of you surviving said crash.

        What are the chances of the cloud evaporating your invaluable data? Very slim. What are the chances of your being able to recover data eaten by a cloud? For all practical intents and purposes, non-existent.

        What are your chances of your personal hardware crashing and causing you to lose data? Well, that's pretty high actually. I think that has happened to nearly all of us at one time or another. What are your chances of recovering data lost from a personal hardware failure? Fairly good.

      2. Darryl

        Hardware failure vs. screwup

        I've lot a lot more data on 'the cloud" (luckily I had the important stuff backed up) due to system/user errors like this than I've ever lost due to a hardware failure. Only ever lost one USB flash drive and it was a very old 32MB one that I used for sneakernetting (Sneakernetting: verb: to use a sneakernet.)

        Yeah, "the cloud" has redundant systems to safeguard your data, but all that redundancy goes out the window when some update or something (or someone) fubars the data.

  5. Steve Button Silver badge

    "back up important messages"

    How do you decide what's an "important" message. Also, something that seems like trash at one moment, could become very important later on. I very rarely delete ANY of my GMail messages for this very reason, unless I'm sure it's some kind of junk. (Maplin's latest offer of the week) and I seem to get hardly any actual spam (perhaps one a week).

    I currently have 43,094 messages in my inbox which is 43,094 times I have NOT had to take the couple of seconds or so it takes to decide if something is worth keeping. Even if I'm generous (it probably takes more than a couple of seconds) that's a few seconds short of a WHOLE DAY of my life that I've saved, even more if you allow for sleeping.

    Luckily I redirect all my mail from a personal domain, into my GMail account... but whenever I check it through this route it's chocked full of spam. Not something I'd relish having to do really.

    This is not the news I was hoping to read today.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      You would seriously rather rely on a 3rd party to keep your information safe in the cloud than bother taking any kind of responsibility for it yourself? (Having a domain but passing the mail to that domain off to Google doesn't count as taking responsibility, quite the reverse, really).

      Based on what you've said, I would suggest that you do not bother to back any of your email up, as it clearly isn't important.

      1. Steve Button Silver badge

        RE: Important.

        I don't just forward. I store and forward, so I've got all my mails locally as well if needed. I never use my actual GMail address to receive mail, and "send as" + "reply to" my personal email address. Works pretty well, except all the spam in my local copy.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fsck me

      43k messages in your inbox? Are you insane? Can you ever find ANYTHING? (and more to the point is there anything worth finding?)

      I though I was hopelessly useless at email management when I got to 1k.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        That's alot of forwards

        of funny cat pictures from your mom.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Not really

        Don't you know that most countries insist on emails being kept and archived? Easier to keep the whole bl00dy lot and be sure, and have a good filing system or search tool.

        1. Goat Jam


          Only if you are a business

      3. Steve Button Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        RE: Fsck me. (43K messages)

        Never ever have a problem finding anything. The search on GMail is pretty good.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. chillvisio

    cloud computing is your destiny

    "Google Apps boss says cloud computing is your destiny" - are you kidding ?


      desiny's child or bastard

      Well, in this case Google Apps boss is correct. Your Email destiny was clearly sent in a particular direction.

  7. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Is this "accidentaly" in the same way that they...

    "Accidentaly" wrote, compiled, tested and delivered a Wi-Fi network detail scoop into their street view cars?

  8. fixit_f

    To be fair.....

    GMAIL is an excellent service with huge amounts of storage, a slick front end and it's completely subsidised by unobtrusive advertising. I've had one since the year dot and it's uptime and resilience have been excellent.

    Given that it's a freebie, I'm not sure you can necessarily expect enterprise like levels of backup and speedy restores. If it was a paid service obviously you'd have every right to go mental about this.

    1. Tzael

      Re: To be fair.....

      Try telling that to the anti-MS crowd who used a similar but much smaller scale event to twist their blades as deep as possible into the tech giant's back a couple of months ago.

      1. Michael Duke


        OK so an outage on the BPOS environment that Microsoft charge for is the same ToS and SLA as Google's free service?

        Cool one up to Google I guess.

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      To be fairer...

      "I'm not sure you can necessarily expect enterprise like levels of backup and speedy restores."

      Given that they have said that they hope to do it soon, but it may take longer than that, I think that they may still beat "enterprise like levels of backup and speedy restores."

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Working on the problem...

    Or "We're first going to identify them all, then we need to find the right backup and then hope it works."

  10. Mike Shepherd


    "This issue affects less than 0.08 per cent..."

    Translation: you always get a few whiners.

    I prefer to think "Hey, this is computers. What we can do with 0.08%, we can do in a few seconds with the other 99.92%!".

  11. JP19


    This is outrageous! All affected users should demand a refund!

    Oh, hang on...

    I have Thunderbird configured to POP messages but keep them on the server. That way I have all my emails in GMail, but I also have a copy of them all on my own computer in case the go missing from GMail for some reason.

    Chat logs, well I disabled them. I don't need a record of such conversations and neither does Google.

      Jobs Horns


      Do you really think those chat logs are really disabled? Come on :)

  12. Nigel Brown

    Thunderbird via Pop3..

    is my preferred option, I only use the web front end if on holiday or otherwise away from my own computer.

  13. Tzael

    Google, always got to do it better than MS!

    So MS temporarily lose the contents of approx 17,000 Hotmail accounts at the turn of the year. Google, never one to be outdone, manage to 'temporarily' dispose of 150,000 GMail accounts. Happy now Google? :-)

  14. Tatsky
    Thumb Up

    Thank you Google...

    For making my point.

    In a recent Gadget Show, Jason was predicting the big changes to tech in 2011. One prediction was that the majority of us would be using cloud computing services, and hardly anyone would store their files, photos, music locally any more. My reaction was along the lines of "b@llocks" because although I use GMail for example, and love that I can access my email from anywhere in the world, via my phone, on the PC etc I also have a local backup using IMAP just in case.

    My mate on the other hand is more than happy to entrust all his data to these services, because they "back it all up" and "they aren't likely to let anything go wrong are they or their reputation is on the line".

    2 days later, thanks google. I love your email product, but I like to hang on to my data also. I won't be uploading my life to the cloud any time soon. (read ever).

    I have no doubt Google will claw back as much of the data as possible, but incidents like this prove that things go wrong. And yes, google mail is free which is tremendous, but issues can still arise in paid for services also. In those cases however some compensation may be in order. You can still lose your data though.

    1. Shakje

      Tomorrow's news:

      Google reports that they've restored the archives of the people affected, some people have lost as many as three mails.

      Can everyone just get a grip until it's all played out?

  15. petur

    Most users are still better off....

    For the simple reason: Google has backups and is restoring them right now for you...

    Most users I know have absolutely no good backup of their own mailfolders at home, so when the disk crashes (or Windows manages to corrupt it), all is lost.

    So, is this any better than having them in the cloud? I bet uptime (and backup reliability) of the cloud based system is still way better than what most people manage at home.

    nuf said...

  16. Frank 2

    near future

    '...we expect a resolution for all users in the near future. Please note this time frame is an estimate and may change.'

    change from the 'near future' to the 'far future'? 'to never'?!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The One Cloud

    Three Clouds for the Software-kings under the sky,

    Seven for the hardware-lords in their halls of stone,

    Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

    One for the Google Lord on his ether throne

    In the Realm of Cyberspace where the Shadows lie.

    One Cloud to rule them all, One Cloud to find them,

    One Cloud to bring them all and in the ether bind them

    In the Realm of Cyberspace where the Shadows lie.

  18. Rob 101

    0.08 per cent?

    0.008 of what per cent? Is that a US cent. Assuming so what do you get 0.8 of for the dollar these days?

  19. Carol Orlowski

    Gmail users stats

    What I found interesting in this report is that 150 000 users represent 0.08%, in other words, there are 1 875 000 users of gmail out there. Somehow I find this number a bit on the low side.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Missing zeroes

      Maybe you should check the number of zeros at the right in your calculations. I get 187,5 million accounts.

      Still a number that looks low for Google usual scales, but way more realistic

    2. Chris Judd

      re: Gmail users stats

      I think you got your sums wrong... 150,000 is 8% of 1,875,000, not 0.08%. So total gmail users would be 187,500,000. Which seems more plausible.

  20. ZenCoder


    I never rely on cloud services that keep my data 100% online. That's why I still check my mail with an email client (Thunderbird on Windows, Mail on OSX) rather than using webmail. Since Gmail support's IMAP rather than just POP I can check my mail on multiple systems and they will remain synchronized.

    If I were one of those .08% affected I'd still have local copies of my email on two laptops and one desktop. I also have local backups of this local data.

  21. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Gmail backup is dirt simple.

    Download Thunderbird, set it to IMAP mode and there you are. Sync each folder for offline use and that mail is now available for your use on or offline.

    You see, the cloud does not work offline. Bit of a flaw there. Luckily, there is a thing called hard drives that can be used for data storage.

  22. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. Andus McCoatover


    I tried an old gmail account of mine, to find it was not in use anymore. Fair enough, don't think I've used it for a couple of years, and Google, as I understand, deletes unused accounts. I may stand corrected.

    So I tried to open a new account, using the old name.

    Yipee - no-one's got it! I can have it back!

    Welcome message an' all. No mail, except for the 3 from gmail, welcoming, useful links, etc.

    That was yesterday. Sunday.

    Log in this morning, I've got HUNDREDS going back to 2007....


  24. onerob

    IMAP could wipe you out

    Presumably, if Google loses your emails but still keeps the account active, your IMAP client(s) will start synching themselves to this empty state. A POP backup would be better and AFAIK you can enable both at the same time on Gmail.

  25. JT13

    Saving email for what purpose?

    I'm amazed at the number of people who keep such huge volumes of email for such long periods of time. What exactly is in there? Photos? Critical business docs? Passwords? (I sure hope not...) Sure, I understand the wisdom of retaining business email for a period of time, but Gmail is hardly the tool I'd use for archiving data and information.

    If I get an email that contains information I want to retain over 30 days, I usually keep it in a document outside of an email - some in databases, others in files. Both databases and files are backed up regularly. Email, on the other hand, is deleted as soon as it's no longer actionable. Business critical email gets backed up offline as well, but even that is subject to a retention policy. Anything else, in my opinion, is data hoarding for no really good reason.

  26. John Tserkezis


    "This is outrageous! All affected users should demand a refund!"

    "Oh, hang on..."

    So you're saying that *reliability* is conditional on how much you pay for a service that offers both paid and unpaid models? That runs on the same hardware? That is run by the same people?

    (grin) Good luck with your super-duper paid model then. Sucker.

  27. ratfox
    Thumb Up

    For non-professionals, Gmail is fine

    Ok, sure, having backups is even better.

    But for most of us, the likelihood of losing data managed by GMail is probably way smaller than the likelihood of losing the same data managed by ourselves. Their computers have less chances of being infected by viruses, they have multiple backups, they have people working 24/7 to ensure that it works. Few of us can ever hope to reach as reliable a system by anything we would organize ourselves.

    Seriously, I could have my own mail server, and back it up myself daily, and I would still be less worried about GMail losing my data.

  28. John F***ing Stepp

    Re:Odd. . .

    Looks like you hit an event.

    Some Google Frantic Bot going through a bundle of crapped over user accounts suddenly noticed that you didn't have mail.

    Then it went and got you some.

    For email I usually use Google since it is more reliable than my company account but I either back up or print out any important pieces.

    I am not using much disk space.

    I am about a tenth of the way though a ream of paper.

    I have always considered everything about the Internet as a bad horror movie; anyone (thing) can die at any given moment. In actual fact I was told last week by a Fundy friend that the end was near and asked what I intended to do about it. No problem, I have Google and Google saves.

    But that was last week.

    I may have to look into a new religion.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Provide your own webmail service

    If you - quite rightly - don't trust the cloud, but still want access to your email when out and about, you can easily set up your own mailserver and get it to provide you with a webmail and/or IMAP interface. Obviously in a corporate scenario you could use Exchange, but for personal use I'd recommend Mailtraq (as it's free). It's easiest if your Internet connection has a static IP address, but even if it's dynamic, DynDNS can wire things up so you can always reach your mail.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Warm up the ink jet

    That's it, I've had it. What can I trust? HDDs die, Flash is crap, Cloud is.. well cloudy.

    Watchout greenies, I'm going back to paper. Yep, gonna print out all of my 2000 gmail emails. Then store them in a huge fire proof box, in my bomb shelter, in a Montana cave.

    When I'm old, I lock myself in and giggle at all the silly nonsense I sent and received.

  31. Winkypop Silver badge
    Dead Vulture

    What the cloud giveths

    The cloud taketh away.

  32. rob hindle

    What about google Calendar

    I was in the forums a few days ago and there even paying users complaining that their calendar data had gone. Is this related? (pre-dates the Gmail story). Or do the problems only get aired when 150,000 users are affected?

    Revisiting the Calendar forum just now I see there are odd individual data loss reports going back a long time. And on reflection my Gmail lost the contents of a recipient group list back in November. I didn't complain - just recreated the list. How many other such problems go unreported?

    On balance the verdict seems to be that the Google properties are not a "safe" home for your data and that the 0.08% figure quoted represents only a tiny fraction of the number of users adversely affected over, say, a 12 month period and on Google accounts rather than just Gmail accounts.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trusting your data to the cloud

    is as stupid as not having a backup of your local machine - scarily common, but stupid nonetheless.

    There is no such thing as a 100% foolproof backup solution, but you can mitigate the risks greatly by having multiple levels of backup in different locations.

    For example, I have regular local backups and my data is synced to 2 other machines (virtual servers from memset) using Dropbox. This gives me 5 copies of my data: My local machine, local backup, Dropbox cloud and the 2 servers. Each of the machines is then backed up the cloud again using Crashplan, giving me another 3 copies of my data. Dropbox and Crashplan both keep old copies of files for 30 days, mitigating the "fat finger, deletea file by accident" issues

    Location wise, I have my data in 4 "locations" - my house, Memset's data centres, Dropbox cloud and crashplan cloud

    doing all this isn't cheap (altogether, the costs are around £100 a month) and still isn't foolproof but it is pretty secure and is a small price to pay when I think of the cost of actually losing the data (irreplaceable photos, projects for customers, etc, etc)

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