Starbucks mulls asking foreigners to enter their passport number due to reverse discrimination claims from Koreans
Starbucks in Korea has come under criticism from Koreans who have discovered that the coffee giant has been demanding more personal information from Korean customers than foreigners to use its free WiFi service.
“Do they think all Korean customers are stupid?” a Korean netizen with the screen name “Real” asked?
“It drives me really crazy.”
Real is one of many Koreans who have recently discovered that Starbucks shops require Korean nationals to enter extra personal information to use WiFi such as their phone number and mobile service provider whereas foreigners only need to enter their name and email.
Some Korean newspapers have also picked up the much heated issue and started to run stories with such titles as “Korean Customers Duped? This is the Easy Way to Use WiFi.”
“Once you press the ‘English’ button on the top, which redirects you to the foreigner section, you will only need to enter your name and email to use Wifi,” an article posted Friday on the Kukmin Daily website pointed out.
Cecilia Song, a spokeswoman for Starbucks Korea, claims that it was inevitable to have a double standard because the Korean law mandates the Korean nationals to enter more personal information than foreigners in order to use WiFi at a public place.
“Due to concerns about cyber crimes, everyone residing in Korea must verify their personal information to access to a public WiFi,” she told The Korea Observer.
“But the law doesn’t apply to foreigners.”
She added that Starbucks asked foreigners to enter a phone number, their passport number or alien residential number to treat customers fairly until early this year. Another official pointed out that other coffee chains are opening their WiFi to everyone without a user verification process but Starbucks Korea is not following the practice because it is illegal.
Until a year ago, expats and travelers were furious about Starbucks’ policy to require such information and they were the ones who felt discriminated by Starbucks.
Starbucks eased requirements for foreigners early this year after receiving many complaints from foreigners and realizing that the law is softer for non-Koreans. It also learned that it takes as many as two weeks for a foreigner to get an alien registration card, prepaid phones are useless in user verification and not all tourists carry their passport to visit their stores.
Now Starbucks has to deal with complaints from Korean customers, from whom the majority of revenues come from, and those who have find a loophole in the Korean legal system.
“We are in a dilemma as we cannot ask phone numbers from people like short-term travelers who are not mandated to enter such information,” Suh Kyu-ouk, head of the PR team, said.
He noted that Starbucks Korea is under pressure from people who think they are suffering from reverse discrimination and it is mulling asking foreigners to enter additional information once again so that Koreans do not feel offended.
“It would be wrong to say that we have a foreigner friendly policy,” he said, adding that Starbucks wants to treat everyone equally.
“We are now discussing with our WiFi service provider KT on the possibility of requiring foreigners to enter their passport number or ease requirements to Koreans in an effort to treat everyone fairly.”
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