#2. Restricting When and How I Can Use Their Site
Got an XBox Live account? Fortunately, Microsoft, being one of the largest companies in world history, has a sprawling website that will let you do anything you need to do... except cancel. No, if you want to cancel your service, you need to call.
And wait on hold. And have a customer service rep try to talk you out of it.
See, guys, the whole point of having an automated website is that it saves time and effort for the people you pay to man the phones, and it's open 24 hours a day. It's convenient for both of us.
But at least their site doesn't close altogether. When I heard about this next one, I thought it was a joke. If I hadn't been doing most of my research at midnight, I might still think that it was. It started with the Ohio Board of Regents giving out educational loans to future nurses through a program called NEALP (Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program).
Someone tried to access the site after 8pm and found this:
I'm going to be honest with you here... They give no reason for the website's operation hours, so I can only speculate as to what's going on. If you go to Reddit, where this was found, you'll notice the "https" in that screenshot, which means it's a secure server. Since their hours match what we'd expect from an office, I'd have to assume that they own their own servers. And when they shut down the office for the night, the servers get shut down right along with it. And since this is a government funded website, I have to also assume that they haven't yet discovered that computers do not require people to be in the room in order for them to continue functioning.
But surely this is an isolated case, right? I really wish it were. Evidently, the people at a company called Redcats USA had a problem with shutting their stores down every night of the week for what was assumed to be maintenance. If you happened to be caught in the middle of shopping or maintaining your own online store through them, you'd be met with "Redcats USA are temporarily unavailable, please call us to place an order." Yep, even if you were in the middle of paying for stuff you were just trying to buy.
"Oh, hold that thought, we're closing. You'll have to come back tomorrow, fuckhole."
OK, but these are small companies, right? But even the big ones "close" a part of their online customer service after hours. If something breaks and you go looking for tech support online, the company's website will either offer you the chance to email them with the promise it'll be answered in a couple of days, or, if you're lucky, you can chat live with an agent. But you can forget the latter if your device breaks in the middle of the night:
In my experience, the words "live support" are usually followed by "is currently offline." Am I crazy for suggesting that if you are set up to sell me things at 3 in the morning, that you should also have people standing by to help me when that thing doesn't work? And aren't those live chat support guys usually located in India? If it's 3 am my time, it means it's two in the afternoon over there. I'm not even keeping somebody awake.
#1. Locking Me into Your Site by Disabling My Back Button
I'm not talking about virus-ridden "free screensavers" sites or torrent portals interlaced with malware. I'm not even talking about the bullshit places that force a popup when you try to close the page, asking, "Are you SURE you want to leave?" Oh, no, you're right, website about anal fucking. I planned on leaving this window up for all of eternity. Thanks for spotting my mistake. Good eye!
It's this growing trend in "web 2.0" where adding a "#" to the end of your URL virtually disables your "back" button. It's called a "fragment identifier," and there's a technical reason for its existence of which I admittedly have little understanding. So I won't try to explain it here.
But I'm pretty sure it has something to do with this.
What I do know is that certain businesses (that I won't link to because they're not getting any of our traffic) are using it to trap people within the site. Attempting to use the back button only refreshes the main page, and the only way out is to close the window or hammer your back button repeatedly so fast that it outruns the page's reload time.
This is why this pisses me off so much. First of all, it just feels dishonest. Imagine going to Walmart and finding that they don't have what you're looking for. So you leave, no big deal. On the way out, the greeter grabs your arm in a panic and says, "Whoa, whoa, whoa there buddy! You haven't bought anything -- I'm afraid I can't let you leave." He then hits a button that shoots down Star Wars blast doors over every exit, and the only way out is to blow up the store.
Luckily, they sell a key in sporting goods.
Second, if I was still making up my mind, comparing prices with other outlets, I'm sure as fuck not going to buy from there now. I don't care if they're 50% cheaper than every other store in existence, pulling that bullshit just ruined any sort of trust I had for them because it's showing me that they don't have a problem using underhanded tactics.
And it's not just businesses who use it. Twitter had a pretty big problem with it when they first came out, and they actually had to redesign the site to fix it. The same happened with Facebook. My job has me using Google Image Search for several hours a day, and it has become commonplace for me to have to completely restart a browser because my "back" button has been hijacked by some bullshit site hosting a picture I needed of Russell Crowe fist-fighting a corn field.
He's in there somewhere. I can hear him screaming, "OH, RIGHT IN THE EAR!"
Even if Twitter and Facebook weren't intentionally trying to pull the trap trick, it appears that they were. And even if it was just a case of bad coding, it made them look incompetent. That's why they fixed it. Because no matter how you look at it, that simple little back button could have cost them an empire because we as consumers won't put up with that shit. Just ask the $300,000,000 sign-up page people.
I just wish more businesses understood that.
For more Cheese, check out 5 Ways Television Went Crazy Since I Quit Watching in 2003 and The 4 Most Important Things to Know as a Gamer Parent.