Some Online Help Agents Are Watching You Type in Chat

This story is enough to really creep you out. In this scenario you’re struggling with something you just can’t figure out, so you jump on the online chat forum to see if someone there can help you. But a person working the online help is so quick at answering; it begins to make you wonder. It turns out they know what you’re typing at the same time you’re doing it because they’re watching you type.

This is something that Gizmodo did some research on. One of the news outlet’s readers wrote and shared with them a chat transcript from.a chat with a customer service agent from a mattress company. The agent was responding to messages before the reader even hit “Send.”

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The reader asked the agent in the conversation, “Can you see the messages I’m typing before I send them?”

The agent replied, “We get a preview,” then went on to ask if they could help with anything else and added, “I’m really glad you found the bolts. :)”

The reader responded. “That doesn’t seem right to me. Creepy at the least.”

The agent typed, “Gives us a little bit of extra time to look up information. :) Can I help you with anything else today?”

Gizmodo explained that something similar happened to HmmDaily’s Tom Scocca. He received a detailed answer from an agent just one second after he hit “Send.”

Scocca googled and turned up a live chat service with a feature it refers to as “real-time typing view.” This allows agents to prepare answers “before the customer submits his questions.”

Another service that lists McDonalds, Ikea, and Paypal as customers, calls the feature “message sneak peek.” It explains that the service allows their agents to “see what the visitor is typing in before they send it over.” Another service also makes reference to “sneak peak.”

Companies are able to accomplish this via JavaScript in your browser.

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This means it happens way more than we probably realize. It also means that it doesn’t matter if you type something, then change your mind and type something else before clicking “Send.” The agent has already read it before you erase.

Sure. It accomplishes what the company wants: it provides you with quick answers while also allowing their agents to move on quickly to the next chat. But it’s also deception. You’re being observed, and they don’t have the decency to tell you.

Scocca asked, “Why give [customers] a fake ‘Send message’ button while secretly transmitting their messages all along?”

And still, it just seems like such a deceptive practice. It’s definitely something good to know and something you need to keep in mind when you are in a chat. Know that you are being watched. There’s no sense in hemming and hawing over what you type before clicking “Send.” They’ve already read it.

Does this affect the way you look at online help and the chats in particular? Does it make you less inclined to use online help chats? Leave your thoughts and concerns in our comments section below.

6 comments

  1. I usually type my “pre-questions” in a separate text box (using Notepad), then copy-paste it in the chat box. I doubt the “other side” will be fast enough to reply before I send the message!

  2. Well, I don’t have time to sit around and wait in chat mode, so this is sort of a boon. However, that being said, I’ve never really gotten this result. I type in my message and wait and wait and wait. I suspect that the representative is juggling four or five chats at once and cycles around to me every so often. Sometimes, I have to type “Are you there?” and finally, they come back…….some chats take forever (if you want an answer to your question). Just my experience

  3. I think this is a silly thing to be worrying about. If the goal is to get an answer to your problem as quickly as possible, why not give the agent as much information as possible? While you’re trying to perfectly phrase your question, they can get an idea of what you want to know. I can’t think of any downside.

  4. I can see the utility of this, if you stay aware that it occurs. You can vent your anger and frustration with your choice of expletives (the sort of things you know, that if actually sent, would totally alienate the person on the other end) and then delete your comments before hitting ‘send’.
    This would be cathartic for you, and tech support would get the message that they’re dealing with an irate customer who is still in some control of their anger, but less than happy with their service. And your angry outburst won’t be on the final transcripts.

  5. I see nothing wrong with the “preview.” You just shouldn’t type swear words if you don’t mean them.

  6. On the face of it, the practice does seem to make customer service better which is the goal of most companies. However, it is no creepier than your smart devices listening to anything you say. With all the surreptitious data harvesting we are subjected to on a constant basis, the practice of previewing help inquiries seems tame.

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