You know what would suck? Logging into Gmail and finding all of your e-mails, folders, and chat logs missing. You know who that happened to yesterday? About 150,000 people.
On Sunday, according to The Huffington Post, a bunch of Gmail users signed in and found that their accounts had been effectively wiped clean. (Of course HuffPo would be the one to break this.) One user writes on the Google forum, "Whatever the error is on Google's end... it's basically reset my account so it's like a brand-new Gmail account. My contacts are intact, but nothing else--the folders have reset to default, my signature line is blank, the 'theme' is changed back to the default and--of course--every single email from the last 7 years has vanished completely."
So what happened? Apparently it's not a hack, but rather an internal error at Google. (Cyber-guerrillas Anonymous are busy with other things today.) The company has made a statement to reporters that the problem "is affecting less than .08% of our Gmail user base, and we've already fixed the problem for some users. Our engineers are working as quickly as possible and we hope to have everything back to normal as soon as possible." It seems as though while some users have gotten their accounts restored, many more are still experiencing problems. Until everything gets sorted out, there will be service disruption for some Gmail users.
As of now, it looks like Google believes it can recover the missing e-mails. Still, tech blogs are taking this opportunity to remind people that it's important to back up your data, even if you have it stored in the cloud. (Lifehacker helpfully points to a number of services you can use for this.)
This is the kind of thing that might seem like a big public-relations disaster for Google--but then, so was the flap over kids' Social Security numbers last week, and that quickly dropped off the radar. Thus far, much of the coverage of this story has assumed a tone that's less "outraged" and more "eh, what are you gonna do"--apparently it's hard to stay mad at a company that just rolled out a sweet new search algorithm. Although for the 150,000 people affected, this is probably even worse than the time Google lost an entire town.