Gmail Data Vanishes Into the Cloud

Monday, February 28, 2011

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Google has been flooded with reports from users of the Gmail service complaining that their entire account history seems to have vanished.

More than a few Gmail users logged into their accounts this weekend to find that all of their email, chats, photos, and documents were no longer available.

Many of the affected users were simply greeted with the Gmail "welcome" message as if their accounts were newly created.

Engadget reported the following:

"If you've got a working Gmail account, you might want to back it up every so often -- as many as 500,000 Gmail users lost access to their inboxes this morn, and some of them are reporting (via Twitter and support forums) that years worth of messages, attachments and Google Chat logs had vanished by the time they were finally able to log on. While we haven't experienced the issue personally, we're hearing that the bug effectively reset some accounts, treating their owners as new users complete with welcome messages. For its part, Google says that the issue "affects less than .29% of the Google Mail userbase," engineers are working to fix the issue right now, and that missing messages will be restored as soon as possible. We'll soon see if this is a momentary setback... or a lengthy wakeup call."

Engadget updated the initial report with a lower estimate of the number of affected users as provided by Google:

"Update: No fix yet, but Google's revised its estimate as to how many users might have been affected by the issue -- "less than 0.08%" -- which means we're probably looking at closer to 150,000 individuals, rather than 500,000. We're assuming that the revised estimate means that the initial count wasn't precise, and not that customers are ditching Gmail in droves."

At less than one one-hundredth of a percent of their overall Gmail user-base, the problem may be small enough for Google to absorb - but what about for the affected users?

Potentially, some of the data lost could be irreplaceable with respect to business activities and legal proceedings. Email and chat records detail chains of events in the same way a stack of postmarked snail-mail correspondence used to.

Many small to medium sized businesses use custom branded Gmail accounts for their primary business email because it is free and the storage capacity is immense. The loss of years worth of contacts, correspondence, negotiations, and documents could be a devastating blow for and SMB.

And who is ultimately responsible for extended damages that may ensue from such an event? This may be a minor glitch for Google, but for a small business it could be the difference between landing a big client or filing for bankruptcy.

Such are the risks of working with data in the cloud.

And such are the risks for the cloud computing industry, which faces an uphill battle when it comes to reassuring potential clients with regards to data protection, security, and third-party liability issues.

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Post Rating I Like this!
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Neelabh Rai I am concerned and worried after reading this. Are the users of Gmail are just numbers and statistical count for Google? To me it looks like... Yes! Such events may be a flaw for the vendor, but for the client it can be a disastrous situation.

Advice: Always have a backup, and never rely completely on one vendor esp. in Cloud Computing.

Thanks for the update
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Rod MacPherson "The cloud" should be treted no differently than your own data centre. Google makes no promise to back up your data for you. It is up to you to make backups. Just because you put your data on someone else's servers doesn't mean that you don't have to back that data up still.
Sure it means you have easier access to it from different locations, and that you don't have to run your own services to keep that access up and running, but it doesn't mean you have given all responsibility over to Google... They never promised you that they would back stuff up so that you could restore as needed.

The best thing to do when thinking about the "Free" web services too is realizing that if you are not paying them, you are not their customer... rather you are their product. How does that change how you think of your relationship with them?
In that context of course it makes sense that they think of you as numbers. That's all you are to their real customers. "How many eyes can you show my ad to?"
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