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Google nukes thousands of Gmail accounts

By Laurie Segall, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Imagine opening up your e-mail and finding years of correspondence gone.

As many as 150,000 Gmail users have been confronting that scary scenario throughout the past day. Around 3:00 pm ET Sunday, Google began "investigating reports of an issue" with its popular e-mail service. Over the next few hours, it confirmed that a small fraction of Gmail users were experiencing disruptions.

Google says on its status dashboard that less than "less than 0.08%" of its user base is affected. But for a service with an estimated 193 million users, that tiny sliver adds up fast. And those affected are spooked.

"I logged in and my account also looks like a brand-new Gmail account ! 10 years of emails (17000 of them) are gone," one user wrote on Google's help forum thread.

"This happened to me this a.m. Everything from 6 years gone. Contact list is fine, but all communications have been deleted," another wrote.

A Google employee said in the help forum that engineers are working to resurrect users' full access. Google's status dashboard, last updated Sunday night, carries a similar message.

"We are fixing the problem. We have restored 1/3 of users and are in the process of fixing the rest," a Google spokesman said Monday afternoon. "Everything should be back to normal in 12 hours. It is our expectation that everything will be fully restored."

He added that Google has reduced its estimate of the percentage of Gmail users affected to 0.02%. That translates to around 39,000 people.

Those users are stuck hoping that Google really can rescue all their data.

"What if the cloud fails?" one wondered in the help forum. "If, ultimately, Google does not make this right in a timely way and I lose the main record of the last 7 years of my life ... that will forever affect how I view trusting an anonymous server farm somewhere with my critical or even not-so-critical data."

The news comes just a few weeks after a Flickr staff member accidentally deleted a user's five-year old account, wiping out 4,000 photos. Although the account was restored, the moral of the story was clear: It's always good to back up information.

Google offers a set of directions to help users back up their e-mail. The five-step process helps users to configure another mail client that will download duplicate copies of Gmail messages.

-CNN's Meghan Dunn contributed to this report.  To top of page

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