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Google Explains Gmail Fail That 'Erased' Users' Emails, Disabled Accounts

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Days after all emails for thousands of Gmail users mysteriously disappeared along with other personal settings, Google has come forth with an explanation--but many users are still unable to get into their accounts.

The culprit? A software bug which affected "several copies of the data," according to Google's official blog. "Some copies of mail were deleted, and we've been hard at work over the last 30 hours getting it back for the people affected by this issue," Google wrote.

The problem originated in a storage software update that created an "unexpected bug," leading to 0.02 percent of Gmail users to lose all their email--about 40,000 of the 200 million who currently use the email service. Google promptly stopped spreading the new software and returned to their old version. Fortunately for the users--and for Google--the company does back up files:

To protect your information from these unusual bugs, we also back it up to tape. Since the tapes are offline, they're protected from such software bugs. But restoring data from them also takes longer than transferring your requests to another data center, which is why it's taken us hours to get the email back instead of milliseconds.

According to Fortune, Google would need about 200,000 tapes to backup their users, which would amount to a "stack of tapes four kilometers high."

Google's App Status dashboard currently shows a green checkmark for Gmail and other apps--"no issues." But many users are still barred from their accounts, with the little green check serving only to infuriate. Instead of being able to login, they receive the following message:

We are currently working on your account because an error occurred with your mail storage. Your account data and messages are safe. However, you won't be able to log in until our team is finished.

We can't predict exactly how long this will take, but if you are still unable to access your account in 48 hours, please contact us with your username at gmail-maintenance@google.com . We apologize for the disruption.

As recently as 10:17 AM EST, user pamohearn voiced her concerns on the help forum: "OK,
so now I am totally freaking out. i haven't had any kind of email access since saturday, and when I went to the dashboard, it says that all should be fixed as of today (green check, no wrench) but I still have no email access through my primary account."

Other users are more angry than desperate. Yuzucat wrote, "I feel like google has betrayed our trust and is trying to pretend that everything is back to normal." And some users have reported that they have lost mail, after the restore. Juan.Guapo said, "I've lost some mail, not all to be sure but definitely some important things. The first thing I noticed was my "Starred" e-mail folder was empty. I do not trust Google with my e-mail anymore."

Others reported missing messages from September 2010 to today and all their drafts, in addition to missing their starred emails.

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