In the latest (or, really, most recently unearthed) instance of the internet being creepier than most users realized, it has come to our attention that the text box you use to communicate with customer service reps at most websites doesn’t work the way you expect it to. In short: it would seem that a lot of companies that let you live chat with customer service reps all utilize a service that allows said reps to see everything you type into the text box, whether or not you press send.
We (I) always assumed that, like when we text someone or use Facebook Messenger, the rep would see the traditional word bubble with ellipses in it. But no. Chances are they’ve seen you every change you’ve made, as you compose, fix typos, and possibly strategize about how to best convey your problem and get support.
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The problem was recently brought to light by Hmm Daily, where editor Tom Scocca wrote about an interaction in which a customer service rep reacted to a request for a coupon within less than a second. This prompted him to do a little digging and discover a service that advertises this functionality—which feels like a serious breach of privacy and trust—as a “value add.”
In the piece, Scocca also mentions that, while consumers may find the idea of a “message sneak peek” repulsive, customer service professionals don’t see any problem with it, a fact that’s easily confirmed by skimming through forums where employees of retailers discuss these types of services.
While it’s all certainly unsettling, in this case, there’s an easy enough way to protect yourself. If you’re truly concerned about a rep seeing your drafted responses before you send them, instead of typing directly into the chat, compose your messages in a word processor—if you have a Mac, this is what Notes was made for!—and paste your presumably pristine responses into the text box. Does it take an extra second or two? Yeah. Sadly, most companies are happy to charge you time in exchange for privacy at every turn.