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Joel Kalman
Joel Kalman, Electrical Engineer
Category: Android Devices
Satisfied Customers: 626
Experience:  I am an MIT graduate with a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from UC Berkeley.
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Google Contacts had a bug hit that eliminated the "groups"

Customer Question

Google Contacts had a bug hit that eliminated the "groups" data from many people's contacts last Monday. The groups are critical to me, and I have around 2800 contacts that need this data back. So far Google has no answer. The groups exist in my Android phone's synced versions of the contacts, but the Android phone has linked many contacts without permission, resulting in a percentage of data corruption that isn't acceptable. Trying to find a solution to unlink all the contacts in my phone.
JA: How old is the phone?
Customer: Sanmsung Galaxy S5
JA: How long has this been going on? What troubleshooting have you tried?
Customer: v4.4.2
JA: Anything else you want the Android expert to know before I connect you?
Customer: Nope.
Submitted: 5 months ago.
Category: Android Devices
Expert:  Jason Jones replied 5 months ago.

Hello,

My name is ***** ***** and I look forward to assisting you today.

If you wish, you can restore your Google Contacts from before the problem occurred. You can go back as far as one week.

- Click this link on a computer: https://contacts.google.com/preview/all

- Click the More option on the left side of the page.

- Click Restore contacts

- Choose 1 Week and click the RESTORE button.

That will restore your contacts online to what they were before the problem occurred.

Please, do that and report back to me with the status of the problem.

Thank you,

***** *****

Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Thanks Jason. I should have mentioned that this time the bug has kindly eliminated all groups from all restoration points as well, which seems crazy but it is true. Here, this is a good place to get up to speed on it: https://productforums.google.com/forum/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer#!msg/gmail/eZJ9mUh4b_4/uJcoHpk2CgAJ
Expert:  Jason Jones replied 5 months ago.

Thank you for that update. So there are no restore points?

Customer: replied 5 months ago.
No, there are the usual restore points up to 30 days ago, and the issue took place on Monday, 11/21/16. What I am saying is one can restore to a point before the issue took place, and the groups are still missing. It is as if Google went back in time to make sure the data is eliminated in all the backups!
Expert:  Jason Jones replied 5 months ago.

I am sorry to hear that. If Google's backups are faulting, there is not much that can be done.

Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Either that, or as someone on the forum suggested, perhaps the data is still there somewhere, but Google is accidentally hiding it for now. That would be nice, but I'm not holding my breathe. My hope in contacting you is that perhaps you had an idea how to find and eliminate auto-linking of contacts in my Samsung S5 phone, because the groups and contact data is there still, but the linking causes the export data to have a percentage of screwed up contacts. And, there is no way to know which ones are screwed up/linked! I can probably live with the other phone export issue of long note fields being truncated, as I can find which ones that happened to and fix.
Expert:  Jason Jones replied 5 months ago.

The ball is in Google's court now. If they do resolve the problem in the near future, you should be able to restore from a working backup.

Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Wait, so you are saying that you know of no way to discover which contacts in the Android contact manager get linked? I can manually click through each and every contact, and when I find one that is linked, click on the linked icon and unlink it, and the data is then okay. The problem is, with 2800 contacts the manual labor involved in doing that is several man days.
Expert:  Jason Jones replied 5 months ago.

I am not aware of any way to do that.

I have run out of ideas.

For this reason, I am opting out of the question and allowing another expert the chance to help.

The next expert will see all that is on this page, so there will be no need to repeat anything.

When another expert picks this up, you will be notified by email.

Thank you for your patience.

- Jason

Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Thanks!
Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

Hello, I am pleased to have the opportunity to assist you. My name is ***** ***** I can help you solve your problem.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

I have two Samsung Galaxy model phones, the S4 and the S7, which bracket your S%, and I do not know of any individual links between phone Contacts and Google contacts.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

You can have different types of phone contacts, such as Device contacts and Google contacts.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

However, you can go to Settings - Accounts - Google - Gmail Account and turn off the Contacts sync for Google contacts.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

This should preserve what you have got on your phone until you can get the individual contacts straightened out.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

Then, after you have recreated the Group memberships, you can turn the Google sync back on, and the online Google Contacts should be synchronized so that they match the configuration fo the Google contacts on your phone.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THIS ADVICE, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS. If I have solved your problem, I would appreciate a GOOD or an EXCELLENT rating. I ONLY GET COMPENSATED FOR MY SERVICES WHEN I RECEIVE A POSITIVE RATING. Thank you for choosing Just Answer.

Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Thanks for your reply. Starting from your first response and working my way down: the "linked contacts" are all within my Gmail contacts (not linked between phone contacts and Gmail contacts). I am only viewing my Gmail contacts and have all other accounts in my phone shut off, and yes, the first thing I did was to disconnect my Gmail contacts from syncing in order to preserve the groups still shown in my phone's Gmail contacts (but not shown any more in contacts.google.com from a browser). I'm afraid your advise doesn't seem to apply to my problem, either because I have not described the issue well, or perhaps you have not had a chance to look at the previous discussion details with the other responder?
Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 5 months ago.

Can you describe the process of displaying a contact link within a gmail contact? I do not understand what you are referring to. I need for you to show me how to create and display a contact link on my phone, so that I can see exactly what you are talking about.

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
When you click on a contact in the Android contact app, the next field under the email address field is a "connected via" field, and it shows the Google "g" to indicate this is a Gmail contact. If there are two "g" icons next to each other (or three, or four), that indicates two Gmail contacts are "linked", which means that the two individual contact records are combined into a single record for viewing (and exporting) purposes. That is where the data corruption happens if you actually need those two records to be unique. Anyway, next to that is an icon of a chain link. By clicking on that icon of a chain link, you can choose to unlink the linked contacts back into their separate records. For your testing purposes to see how this works, you can also use that chain icon to link a couple of contacts together by choosing the "link another contact" button at the bottom.
Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 4 months ago.

Thank you for the explanation. Now I know what you are talking about. Actually, I am quite familiar with this on y S4, as many of my contacts have links between Google contacts, Device contacts, and Uber Contacts. I have had multiple links with identical Google and Device contacts, because of Google transfers from previous smartphones and my experimentation to learn more about Device synchronization. I have had to go through my contacts one-by-one and unlink and delete the duplications, because they result in repeated contact information. When I transferred my Contacts to my S7, all Device contacts and Google contacts transferred as Google contacts, and all duplications were eliminated. I no longer have any linked contacts, and I am pleased about this, because I have always viewed the links as a nuisance, since they always resulted in repeated telephone numbers and street addresses. I do not understand why you need these links, and I do not think that they were eliminated due to a bug on the Google server. Rather, my opinion is that eliminating these links is a feature of the Google software, since it eliminates duplications. If you are linking different individual contacts and depending upon these links persisting, I do not think that you are using linked contacts properly, because they are always going to be eliminated by the operating system eventually.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 4 months ago.

PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THIS ADVICE, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS. If I have solved your problem, I would appreciate a GOOD or an EXCELLENT rating. I ONLY GET COMPENSATED FOR MY SERVICES WHEN I RECEIVE A POSITIVE RATING. Thank you for choosing Just Answer.

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
Thanks for trying to help, but you are clearly not understanding the problem. If you want to understand it, rather than me post everything again, can you just go back to my original question, and then my followup just after that where I point to the Google forum discussing the bug I am talking about? I never said there was a bug in the linking on the Samsung. It is in Google Contacts in the cloud. The Samsung was to be my source of recovery, but the linking issue screwed that option.
Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 4 months ago.

I understand that you are linking dissimilar contacts, but you should not be doing that, because it is not the intended use of the app You said in your original question that the server has caused additional other contacts to be linked. This corruption has resulted because you are using the app incorrectly. I do understand your problem. But you are right. I do not understand why linking contacts into groups is important to you, when the app already provides group memberships to which you can add your contacts by checking the box next to the groups, such as Family, Friends, etc.

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
Wow. I'm sorry, but you do not understand the problem at all. I'll assume it is because I originally described the problem in a way that can be misunderstood, so I'll start over by restating the original problem more clearly:www.google.com/contacts (which is the way you work with your gmail contacts via a web browser) had a bug hit around Monday, 11/21/16, that eliminated the "groups" categorizations from many people's contacts, leaving all contacts in a single group called "other contacts". The customized groups still exists, and are shown on the screen, but they contain no members anymore. The groupings are critical to me, and I have around 2800 contacts that need the groupings back. So far Google has no answer, but has admitted to the bug (see http://tinyurl.com/jhetbkp for the forum thread on this issue affecting thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people).Now, looking at my phone, which syncs with the web, I see that thankfully the groups still exist there! So I quickly stopped syncing my phone to retain the groupings, and set out to find a way to export my phone's contacts app and then import them into contacts on the web, in order to restore my groupings. It works, except for the problem that the contacts app in my Samsung S5 links contacts that it thinks should be linked (even if they are just contacts within my Gmail account). The result of this stupid linking, which I never did, nor authorized the contact app to do, is that a percentage of my contacts are "corrupted" in the sense that when I export a linked contact, it is missing much critical detail as a result of the linking. If I find a contact that is linked in my phone, I can unlink it, and then the original separate contact records are there again! And they can be exported fine! Here is the problem: short of stepping through each and every contact of my 2800, I have no way to know which contacts this stupid app has decided to link.Trying to find a solution to unlink all the contacts in my phone.
Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 4 months ago.

You are right. I checked my smartphone contacts, and many of them which I had in my Just Answer group were Unassigned, so I have lost group information too. I restored this group on my phone, so that it now has 17 members. However, my Google contact list online shows only 8 members. I have attempted to execute a Sync Now command on my phone, and the syncing is not working. I was unaware of this problem until you brought it to my attention. However, where I get lost in your explanation is when you start talking about links, because you are not describing what is linked. I do not have any link errors on my phone that I am aware of. Perhaps you can explain by giving an example of what links are corrupting your contacts. I will check the forum thread.

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
Links: If, within your contacts on your phone you have two contacts that share something (I'm not sure what all the parameters are.. address, phone number, similar name, or some combination), the contact app makes a decision to "link" the contacts, and in doing so removes information from one or both of the separate contacts. For instance, when a contact is linked, one of the two note fields goes away. You can tell a contact is linked by the "connected via" field having two or more icons. Un-linking them brings back the missing data as it separates back into two records. But if they are linked when you do your export, the data is missing in the export. Hehe, at this point I feel like I am the "expert" and you are the guys wanting answers! :-)
Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 4 months ago.

I know how the links work. I just did not understand why they were a problem for you. I had not tried exporting my contacts, so I did not know of the missing fields problem. I am going to export mine now from my phone and import them into the web contacts, because the sync is not working. We are all always learning. I just focus on providing the information that I know and what I have learned to others.

Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 4 months ago.

I imported the contacts from my phone. Didn't like the merged file, so I deleted all contacts on the web and then imported the contacts.vcf file that I had exported from my smartphone, and now the sync is working. I added a second email address to a phone contact, and, voila, it instantly appeared on the web! most of the my links were removed from my phone contacts when I imported them from Google to my new phone, so I do not see the problems that you do.

I am still wondering why you would need to unlink the contacts after exporting, thus exposing the missing fields. The only reason that I unlink contacts is when I have redundant information, such as a google contact linked to two device contacts. I don't care about the missing fields, because I delete the redundant contact after I unlink it. These things happen from time to time, but I do not make an issue of it.

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
I give up. Thanks for trying to help though!
Expert:  Joel Kalman replied 4 months ago.

I have communicated with you the best that I can. I think you expect too much from a live app that serves millions of users.

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