6 years of gmail missing from inbox...WTF???
July 27, 2017 2:38 AM   Subscribe

I just noticed that the earliest email messages in my inbox are from mid-2013, more than 6 years after I opened my account. I googled the issue, of course, and I know I'm not the first person who has dealt with this problem, but nothing I've found seems applicable, including the suggestions offered in this identical Ask from 2013 (marked "resolved", though that doesn't seem to be the case). Hoping fellow mefites have new info.

Nothing seems to be missing from other folders (sent, drafts, various folders I created), just from my inbox. I virtually always access gmail via the web interface, i.e., I've maybe used the Android app half dozen time; I've checked filters and settings; I set up 2-part authentication about 6 months ago; I'm not synced to any other email accounts; I've used less than 20% of available storage. No reason to suspect the account has been hacked—and can't imagine why anyone would do so simply to delete old email from my inbox.

The only odd thing I found was my Google+ account has 2 followers, which is surprising, given that I don't share anything and my gmail address is firstname[not my real]surname. I would block these followers, but can't find them. (The instructions say "Open Google+. Open the profile of the person you want to block."—but, the profiles aren't there.) Regardless, I doubt this is the source of the issue.

Finally, although I just noticed that my sent file was ~5 times the size of my inbox, I have no idea how long it's been like this/when the files disappeared.

I've read what Google had to say to others re this issue, but haven't posted a question to them directly because I've never found them to be particularly helpful, which is not the case with you all.
posted by she's not there to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Inbox" is just a label like any of the other labels (aka "folders" but they're not really folders). Email can be Archived, meaning it still exists in your account but won't show up in your Inbox (because it removes the Inbox label). If you look in All Mail (which shows everything irrespective of labels) and/or manually search for email older than 2013 can you find anything?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:55 AM on July 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


I virtually always access gmail via the web interface, i.e., I've maybe used the Android app half dozen time

What are the chances that some time four years ago you hooked up an email client like Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail and followed instructions to have it retrieve your mails via the POP3 protocol? Any such client would probably have issued Delete commands for every email it retrieved, because that's been the default way to set up a POP3 client for a very long time.

The good part is that the Gmail POP3 server has never, to the best of my knowledge, actually deleted a message when told to do so by a POP3 client. It archives them instead. If that's what's happened to yours, then they should all still show up under All Mail as EndsOfInvention explained.
posted by flabdablet at 3:14 AM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


What are the chances that some time four years ago you hooked up an email client like Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail

Definitely not Outlook nor did I intentionally use Windows Live Mail, but I remember some frustrations dealing with other aspects of Windows Live, so I suppose it's a remote possibility.

Re All Mail: I created multiple folders when I set my gmail account and for the first couple of years filed most (not all) incoming email accordingly. Looking at All Mail, most of the early messages have labels. Those that do not are "sent" mail. The only "incoming" messages are those that are attached to a "sent" message, i.e., I was replying to an incoming message.

However, there are no messages without a label that consist of just an incoming email until 2013.

By any chance is there an Archive function? I don't have an Archive folder, but I suppose if I had the option to Archive email—perhaps to save storage space—I would have taken it. (I don't actually remember doing this.)

Appreciate the help—this is so frustrating.
posted by she's not there at 3:46 AM on July 27, 2017


However, there are no messages without a label that consist of just an incoming email until 2013.

Does this mean that you do have some messages with a label, consisting of just an incoming mail and dated prior to 2013?

By any chance is there an Archive function?

There is, and has been since Gmail first appeared. What it does is strip off the Inbox label, making All Mail the only place to find the archived message.

If you delete a message from All Mail then it moves to the Trash, and if it's allowed to remain there for more than a month it finally evaporates completely.

Something that's perhaps not well understood is that any Gmail message only ever exists in one actual folder, and that actual folder is either All Mail or Spam or Trash. If you attempt to move a message "out of" All Mail and into some other folder, then unless that other folder is Spam or Trash, all that happens is that the destination folder's name gets applied to the message in All Mail as a label.

In particular, Sent is not a real folder; it's a label.

I've quite often seen people react to misunderstanding this by performing mass deletions from All Mail after what they interpreted as a half-successful attempt to file messages found in All Mail in some other folder instead. The result is that messages deleted from All Mail then move to Trash and disappear from the other folder as well.
posted by flabdablet at 4:05 AM on July 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


Also, at some point in the random walk that has been the evolution of the Gmail user interface, Google reacted to the increasingly obvious fact that very few people understood their innovative de-duplicating labelling scheme by adding a "move to folder" function separate from the earlier "add label" function.

But all this has ever done is combine the previous "add label" and "archive this message" functions in one step. It adds the specified label and removes any existing Inbox label. So the "moved to folder" message is still actually in All Mail, just as if you'd done those two steps separately as you'd have had to given the earlier UI version.
posted by flabdablet at 4:10 AM on July 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


If you delete a message from All Mail then it moves to the Trash, and if it's allowed to remain there for more than a month it finally evaporates completely

Is that right? I thought spam was the only of the three folders that would delete something automatically?
posted by COD at 5:12 AM on July 27, 2017


It's been a while since I relied on Gmail for anything important, but if I recall correctly the behavior is that a month after something lands in Spam it automatically gets moved to Trash, and a month after something lands in Trash it automatically evaporates.
posted by flabdablet at 6:13 AM on July 27, 2017


Does this mean that you do have some messages with a label, consisting of just an incoming mail and dated prior to 2013?

Yes, I have messages with labels/in "folders"(I now understand that they aren't actually in different directories), including sent and drafts, going back to 2007. It's just that I have no incoming messages without labels (except those attached to a sent message) prior to 2013.

From the beginning, however, most of my incoming email did not get moved/labeled, I just left it in the inbox. In fact, over the years, I got very lax re moving messages and I've been meaning to get rid of most of my folders/labels—I seldom browse those folders and I could always use the search function, e.g., search for messages from Chase, if I needed the info.

At this point, I suppose it seems that the most logical explanation is that mid-2013, while viewing All Mail, I labeled/moved previously unlabeled messages and—thinking they were in another folder—deleted the messages in All Mail?

But that can't be right—much/most of my incoming email didn't get labeled/moved at all, i.e., I just left it in the inbox. And I'm sure I would have noticed the missing messages before now. Finally, given that I've used less than 20% of available storage, I rarely move anything to trash.

I appreciate the help and don't mean to appear to be dismissing the suggestions so far. I know I am capable of making remarkably stupid mistakes.
posted by she's not there at 6:42 AM on July 27, 2017


Have you tried searching by date?

Paste this into the search field and see if anything comes up:

after:2007/1/1 before:2013/1/1

You can edit the dates as appropriate and if the emails are still somewhere in your account, even in the trash, gmail should find them.
posted by eatcake at 7:22 AM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


What is the oldest email when you click on 1-50 of (however many emails you have in your inbox) and you can sort by "Oldest?"
posted by kuanes at 7:37 AM on July 27, 2017


At this point, I suppose it seems that the most logical explanation is that mid-2013, while viewing All Mail, I labeled/moved previously unlabeled messages and—thinking they were in another folder—deleted the messages in All Mail?

Seems to me that a more plausible way to get to where you currently find yourself involves a "helpful" though not particularly Gmail-aware email client taking it upon itself to tidy up your Inbox for you by moving all mails older than $DATE to some oddly named folder of its own devising, then you responding to the mysterious appearance of same by deleting (rather than archiving/de-labelling) everything inside it, then forgetting you'd done that.

God knows I have lost track of all the sub-optimal IT decisions I've made in the last four years. The only way I've avoided major data loss is by always having been fairly careful about ensuring that anything I could conceivably care about is backed up on at least two offline disk drives that I can physically put my hands on.
posted by flabdablet at 7:50 AM on July 27, 2017


Well this is interesting...I just noticed 3 pre-2013 incoming messages without labels while viewing All Mail—2 are from Gmail Team, 3/26/06, re my new account, and another from Google Page Creator, 4/4/06, encouraging me to sign up. No idea why I didn't notice these the first dozen times I looked at All Mail.

That's it re incoming messages without labels until mid-2013.

I'm going to step away from this for a few hours to clear my head. This is making me so crazy I'm afraid I may be overlooking something obvious.
posted by she's not there at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2017


Someone recently told me that after some period of time, gmail deletes messages without a folder/label. That was the first I had heard of this, and I don't know whether it is true.
posted by Comet Bug at 4:09 PM on July 27, 2017


Thanks for the help, folks. I've decided to accept that I did something stupid* that deleted all incoming messages w/o a label, despite not being able to come up with a logical explanation re what I could have done that did not also delete those 3 incoming/without label emails from gmail/google. I'm taking solace in the fact that I lost only incoming messages that did not merit a response from me (those that did are attached to my outgoing message)—arguably, the least important messages.


*Not without precedence. I failed to copy email before I closed my Comcast account several years ago and lost all that lovely email from the one who showed up at the right place, but the wrong time.
posted by she's not there at 6:45 PM on July 28, 2017


If you want to guard against similar kinds of loss in the future, grab a decent free email client like Thunderbird; hook it up to your Gmail account via IMAP, which is the default way that Thunderbird will set things up if you tell it you have a Gmail account; then let it download all your messages. Once it's done that, copy the ones you care about to a local folder or folders. Fire it up and update your local folders before succumbing to any urge to reorganize your Gmail account, or whenever you realize you haven't done it for a while, whichever happens first.

Thunderbird is much better suited to this job than Microsoft clients like Outlook or Windows Live Mail, because Thunderbird keeps all your mails in a standard format that's well understood by most other email clients as well as being pretty much plain text.
posted by flabdablet at 3:07 AM on July 29, 2017


Mailbird is also a lovely client, that, although it can do POP3, is really pretty much optimized for Gmail. It also has a lovely layout with a flat aesthetic and is really tooled for productivity.
posted by Samizdata at 1:42 AM on July 30, 2017


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