A problem with Google Inc.'s free e-mail service that has users increasingly reporting that their data and accounts are being irretrievably deleted is an isolated one, the internet search giant says.

Starting as early as Dec. 17, some subscribers ofGoogle's Gmail service who were trying to check their mail have found that their messages and accounts were wiped out.

But the problem is limited to a few dozen people, Google told CBC News Online in an e-mailed statement late Thursday.

"Regretfully, a small number of our users — about 60 — lost some or all of their e-mail received prior to Dec. 18," Google spokesperson Courtney Hohne wrote.

"Once we found out about this issue, we worked day and night to confirm that only a few accounts were affected and to do whatever we could to restore as much of the users' accounts as we could."

Frustrated Gmail users have been posting messages to online discussion forums — including the company's own Google Groups — complaining of the problem and demanding a resolution.

"Found my account clean, nothing in inbox, contacts, sent mail," a person using the moniker "Ps101" wrote in a Google Groups discussion thread. "How can all this information residing in different folders disappear?"

The post opened a flood of similar notes.

"We lost all our messages — all of them, get it? I lost over a thousand — from every single folder," a Gmail user calling himself "Pronk" wrote in a discussion thread on Google Groups on Dec. 21.

Pronk noted that prior to the crash, he had repeatedly received a notification from his web browser that more than 100 scripts, or web-based programs, were running slowly. Scripts are sometimes used by malicious attackers to spread viruses or other malware. Several of the people who posted messages, including Pronk, said they use the Firefox 2 web browser.

Google launched its free, web-based e-mail service on April 1, 2004, offering users a gigabyte of storage — the equivalent of 500,000 pages of text — 250 times more storage than most free e-mail services of the day offered.

"If a Google user has a problem with e-mail, well, so do we," Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder and president of technology said in a written statement at the time.

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But answers to the problems of Gmail users with vanishing accounts and data have been slow in coming, they say.

"From now on I will be completely revising how I save messages, contacts, etc.," wrote a user going by the name "PlanetPhillip" wrote on Dec. 24.

He posted another message on Thursday inquiring whether there was any news about the problem.

"I'm still waiting to be contacted by Google," he wrote.

In a subsequent post to the discussion on Thursday, Pronk published an excerpt from an e-mail he said he had received from Google.

"Our engineering team has been working to resolve the issue with your account that we detected in our system," he quoted Google as saying.

"An isolated problem caused the loss of all the data in your account before December 18th. Our engineers worked long nights to try to locate any recoverable information, but … they have finally had to accept that for your account we could not recover the data."

Hohne noted that the company has been working with users to help them resolve the problem.

"Earlier this week we contacted all of the people who've been affected," Hohne's message to CBC stated.

"We know how important Gmail is to our users — we use it ourselves for our corporate e-mail. We have extensive safeguards in place to protect e-mail stored with Gmail."