So, in early 2000, ICQ was popular here. “Every kid” with a computer seemed to have it installed. I was not a popular kid, so I probably missed most of this, but I was once invited (or perhaps invited myself) to a kind of multi-person “group chat” in ICQ.
In this environment, which I only remember foggily, it resembled IRC, but was quite different. I’m not sure if it was a pure coincidence, but at some point into the conversation, I changed the “view” or “mode” (or something along those lines) to a secondary one.
You can guess how shocked I was to see that now, the window split up into many different sub-windows, each showing everyone typing in real time, letter by letter, including using the backspace button!
I remember getting a cold shiver down my spine, trying to remember if I had written something awkward and then deleted it before “sending” it (as I thought since the standard/default mode makes it look like messages are kept local until you press Enter). I was, and still am, convinced that the main purpose of inviting me and the others to that “group chat” was for the owners/creators of the group chat to collect juicy data on us unsuspecting fools.
Still to this day, I think back at this and many other similar things from those days. Spying was really a thing even back then. (Don’t even get me started on Netbus.exe and having some unknown stranger start typing on my screen one day, probably having lurked for weeks or months, downloading private files of mine and spying on my desktop…)
Anyway, my question is: did I dream/hallucinate this, or was this actually a feature in ICQ of that time? Since it was no the default view, few if any would notice this, and I only did it out of sheer coincidence. Since I was seeing what everyone else was typing in real time, I assume that either they also didn’t know about this, or they all knew about it and had actively enabled it. The latter scenario seems the most unlikely.
No matter what the answer is, this kind of thing freaks me out. I also remember that ICQ would openly display everyone’s IP address in their “profile” inside the program, seemingly made specifically to enable these kinds of privacy violations.
And the saddest part is that the GUI of the program itself was gloriously beautiful in its simplicity (until they ruined it with bloat). I really loved how those early IMs looked visually. And you could search for new friends freely in a way which would be unimaginable today or even just a few years later. Such bittersweet memories…