When something goes wrong with a product you own or a service you pay for, it's reasonable to expect quick, effective customer service from the company responsible for whatever it is that's giving you trouble.
More and more companies are turning to online services to allow their customers to vent: line yourself up for a chat with one of the company's reps, detail the issues you're having and, hopefully, you'll get the help you need.
Unfortunately, along with being given assistance, you can also expect to be surveilled as part of your online exchange. Many companies have set their customer service reps to see what you're typing before you click "send" on your message to them.
Next time you're chatting with a customer service agent online, be warned that the person on the other side of your conversation might see what you're typing in real time. A reader sent us the following transcript from a conversation he had with a mattress company after the agent responded to a message he hadn't sent yet.
Something similar recently happened to HmmDaily's Tom Scocca. He got a detailed answer from an agent one second after he hit send.
Googling led Scocca to a live chat service that offers a feature it calls "real-time typing view" to allow agents to have their "answers prepared before the customer submits his questions." Another live chat service, which lists McDonalds, Ikea, and Paypal as its customers, calls the same feature "message sneak peek," saying it will allow you to "see what the visitor is typing in before they send it over." Salesforce Live Agent also offers "sneak peak."
I mean sure, having reps see what you're typing before you've fired off a message allows for a faster response–you'll be able to get on with your life a lot faster thanks to sneak peeking than without it. The shitty trade-off is that as you type, you're being observed, without your permission. Hitting a chat's "send" or "reply" button is a universal sign that what you've got to say is ready to be seen: You've gathered your thoughts and have explained your needs to the best of your ability. That a customer service agent can see what you're trying to say, before you actually say it, is rude and intrusive.
Sadly, this sort of greasy shit isn't anything new.
As Gizmodo points out, back in 2005, The New York Times reported that when we're on the phone on hold with customer service, even as we listen to hold muzak, what we do and say while we wait can be heard and recorded.