Did you know that missionaries on the other side of the “chat” feature can read what you’re typing before you send it? Meaning, you can type something, delete it, and send something else, and they’ll still know what you typed originally. Does that seem like a massive invasion of privacy or does that seem like a massive invasion of privacy?

I don’t doubt that Kirton McConkie, the whiz-kid legal team for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, knows what it’s doing. But this reminds me of an episode in Season 7 of Parks and Recreation, where Grizzl sneaks it into their user agreement that they can data mine users (aka, read and record everything they every say and do on their phones to make money from marketers).

In court, Ben says this to Grizzl:

What you’re doing might technically be legal, but it’s definitely not chill.”

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that missionaries I’m talking to on an online chat room only get to see what I’m sending to them in said online chat room. There is no reasonable explanation for why they need to scan my typed out thoughts as I’m still formulating them, other than being able to create false spiritual experiences or learn more about me that I haven’t chosen to tell them in order to further their own cause. I guess you could make a case for saving time, but doesn’t the LDS church teach that members should be honest in their dealings with their fellow men, which includes not deliberately misleading someone?

I asked a few former Mormons on Reddit how they discovered that missionaries can see what you’re typing (because if anyone can unearth a scandal, its those guys!) Here’s what they said:

“I found out by typing “I know you can read what I type before sending” and the missionary replied “No I can’t.” The thing is I had not pushed “send”. – Openly lying missionaries?! 

It’s especially strange that some missionaries have lied about it, when others have admitted it:

“I read a recent post commenting on how it seemed, at times, that the missionaries seemed to be able to read what chatters were typing before hitting “send”.

So, I did a little experiment.

I got on chat and immediately typed, “Is it true that mormons can’t eat meat?” Then I deleted it, and instead just submitted a normal greeting. I continued this type of activity (each time mentioning a health code and not being able to eat meat) for a few minutes during the initial banter, then I typed, “My friend said that the mormon health code says they can’t eat meat.” I did not submit it. I just walked away from my computer for few minutes to see what happened.

I think you’ll enjoy the results.

We all know that the average person entering a chat room would have no idea that their words are being read before they choose whether or not to send them. And I think that’s really, really wrong.



Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young would have been a millennial blogger, but she died in 1901. The wife of Brigham Young, and prior to that Joseph Smith, and prior to that Henry Jacobs, who was sent on a mission by Brigham before he married her, Zina loves writing, long walks on the beach, and playing the field.
  • J.T.

    This is standard functionality in software of this genre.
    To quote the Live Agent admin guide, for example:
    Setting: “Sneak Peak Enabled”
    What it does: “Indicates whether agents can see what a chat customer is typing before the customer sends a chat message.”

  • Daniel K

    Just to play devil’s advocate (yeah, yeah), I used to be the system administrator for a tech support chat system my company used to chat with customers. The option to see stuff being typed in was a built-in option you could turn on or off, and it’s a functionality that helped customer service agents find answers or info faster. I’m a big privacy advocate, but there’s nothing nefarious about this–it only displays data that the user has chosen to submit into the form in real time.

    It might be nice to have a disclaimer visible near the button to initiate a chat, but all things considered, this isn’t nearly as bad as, say, bishops snooping on members’ social media and calling them into interviews over social and political stances.

    • Mike

      But why have a send button? The button gives the distinct impression that a message hasn’t been sent until I press it.

  • K.

    “It’s especially strange that some missionaries have lied about it, when others have admitted it.”
    My guess is it comes from the inconsistency/lack of training for the missionaries.

    Just to give perspective from someone who used to be on the other side of the computer: For the most part, missionaries are visitors’ center sisters and MTC missionaries (called to the MTC because of a physical disability). When I served in a visitors’ center we got maybe an hour of training on chats, and most of it was an “Isn’t technology a great blessing from the Lord” speech. We got maybe one sentence about being able to see what someone was typing before they sent it and it was a brushed over, “Oh yeah, isn’t that cool?”

    I was always uncomfortable with it, and my companions and I would tell people as soon as we could, just to let them know. I don’t doubt that some missionaries use it to create contrived spiritual experiences (just like some missionaries “cry” during lessons) but I know I never did, for whatever that’s worth.

    And to be fair to the missionaries on your chat, that was my experience too. For every sincere person using chat to ask questions there are probably twenty people that come on and write suuuuper vulgar things, don’t send it, and then ask, “will you teach me how to pray?” (Or, they ask a series of “sincere” questions, and then eventually say, “One more question,” followed by a vulgar proposition.) Coming from a background where “gosh-golly” and “durn” are strong words, you can imagine how traumatizing it is for these 18-20 year old girls. Same thing with phone calls. There was one guy that would call, ask whichever sister answered the phone “questions”, and then jerk off to her voice. He would call obsessively to several visitors’ centers, but security wouldn’t block him “just in case he came around.” We had to sit by the phone and hang it up every few seconds for an hour, sometimes longer, until he stopped calling. Same thing with stalker guys coming to the visitors’ center. Security would rarely ban anyone, “just in case his heart was being softened.” Whenever they came, the “target” sister was rushed to the back until they left. It makes me really mad that the safety of the sister missionaries was less of a priority than dirty men’s potential “conversion.” Anyway, in those cases, it did help to see what they were typing before they sent it. At least the girls could protect themselves and end the chat.

    Another thing to think about, which is only semi-related. They tend to assign missionaries from all over the world to vistors’ centers. Many of them are responding in their second language, that they’ve probably been studying for less than 18 months. I’m guessing that was the case with your chat.

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