Got a Call from Starbucks Korea… :)

Right, so after my message the other day to Starbucks Seattle, I got a very courteous, polite, apologetic, and professional call this afternoon from someone at Starbucks Korea, who works in marketing and who gave me the lowdown on this story, after getting a call from Seattle sometime today.

She told me that the Alien Registration Numbers weren’t usable for Starbucks wifi access at first, but that this was fixed in early February. (I think she said the 6th, but I’m not 100% sure of it.) She said that it should be working now. I told her that it had been suggested to me (on Facebook, thanks Sarah) that the name-length problem might have been part of the culprit more recently.

(That is, that often on Korean websites, the field where names can be entered is relatively short, but that on Alien Registration IDs, the full name is used, which means you’re looking at 30+ characters for someone with a long name, like my middle name, Alexander.)

She said she was going to look into it, and told me that if I had any problems, I could call her back. So I guess sometime in the next couple of days, I’m going to test it out and see if it works. Also, I’m assuming the field is going to require the name to appear as on the Alien Reg card — ie. surname first, all caps. If this isn’t clearly indicated, I’ll give her a buzz to let her know this should be clearly indicated on the website somehow. (I don’t remember it being indicated.)

In any case, I was very impressed. Also, another interesting thing she said was that this free service is not provided by Nespot, but by Google. I wonder how Google feels about the fact that to access a free Google service, internet users in Korea are being asked to enter their national ID #s. Given the connection between this and anti-free-speech movements like the whole Minerva case, one wonders… but then, Google was happy to accommodate the government of China, so I don’t expect they’ll think much either way about this.

But over all, as I say, I was impressed. Through its employees’ efforts, the company surely gave me the impression they give a damn about what customers think, and understand this affects whether they’ll get repeat business or get scooped by the competition. And while maybe this is normal in some places, that idea hasn’t penetrated as deeply in Korean consumer culture, so it’s quite refreshing.

Readers! Go forth and test this out! And remember, you probably need to put your surname first, and write it all in capital letters. Let me know whether it works for you! (I’ll bring my [new] iPod Touch and give it a try, if I have time on the way to my gathering this evening (in the course of which a few clever souls in hairy white bodies will drink beer and natter away the hours, though given the cold I feel coming on, maybe it will only be a few hours…).

27 thoughts on “Got a Call from Starbucks Korea… :)

  1. If the problem is the surnam-first/all-caps variety, you are still limited to the first 20 characters of your full name.

    My surname-first-middle totals 21 characters. If I use all 21, I get an error. If I lop off the last letter, it works.

  2. Gord:

    Does this mean that non-Koreans who don’t live in Korea, but are just visiting, and therefore don’t have ID numbers will still not be able to use Starbucks’ wireless? It seems pretty dumb to exclude travelers: people away from home are precisely the ones who need public places to get on line.

    In Japan anyone can get on line at Starbucks . . . if they’re willing to pay.

  3. When I travel, I’m more apt to use the free Internet connection I have in my hotel room rather than cart my laptop around the city looking for free wireless. I imagine most other travelers are the same.

  4. Robo,

    I do? Well, maybe, sometimes. Hmmm. We’ll see.


    Er, thanks. See my comment to Robo. :)


    So it works if you use only the first 20 characters? I’ll try test it in the next couple of days; if I can replicate it I’ll call on Monday, but BOY is that silly. But I’ll disagree — when traveling, I want my netbook to travel at random public places, even if the hotel’s rates are silly.


    Yeah, exactly. Travelers seem to be excluded. I remember my last time in Fukuoka, I got free wireless in Starbucks. I was using Windows then, though; I’m curious how Linux/my iPod Touch will do… Paying would be, well, if it works, I’d be willing in a pinch, I guess…

  5. Last night I went to Starbucks in Hongdae, and was pleased when I got to the foreigner login screen. But when I put in my valid ID number, it told me to check my ID, and wouldn’t let me login. (yes, I inputted my name correctly) At least they told to check it in English.
    Now they’re halfway there.

  6. Matt:

    By correctly, and I just want to confirm this, you:

    (1) Entered your name in all capital letters? ie. MATT not Matt?

    (2) Entered your name with Surname first ie. JOHNSON MATTHEW MARK

    I’ll be trying this as well, but not today — I had to sponge a ton of water out of my closet this afternoon and i’ll be lucky if I get farther than the on-campus gym — but I’ll post here whether or not it works. Well… once I get somewhere that lets me go online to write such a post, of course.

  7. Well it’s good for starrybucks to update their systems to all ow resident foreigners to use their internet service, which for the love me I don’t see the need for them to require ID numbers.
    The PC bangs don’t require ID numbers- you walk in there, grab a card, sit down and off you go. they even throw in free coffee. I could do more damage from a PC bang than I could from a starrybucks.

  8. Yes. It’s one of those odd things about living in an unfree society — which contact with a few people lately has reminded me is a proper description of Korea’s political situation — that the internal contradictions and inefficiencies are clearer from the outside.

    (Mind you, in a PC Bang most users are still using the Korean internet, so they still register for each site with their national ID #. Starbucks/Google just adds one more layer of tracking onto this.

    (I say just, but I mean “merely”, not “unobjectionably”. I don’t know whether Google’s hands are tied by Korean law, though. I think not, since other shops offer free untracked wifi. But maybe Google is held to a higher standard because it’s an official nationwide policy, or because Google is foreign. Still, it’s arguable that in reinforcing the Korean political establishment’s tendency to stamp out online anonymity and thereby curtail freedom of speech, Google is breaking its famous rule of “Do No Harm.” But then again, given the whole concession to Chinese censorcrats, I doubt the argument will fly too far.

    Might be an interesting topic for a Wired article or something, though.

  9. Interesting. But obviously there is no recourse for non-Koreans who live here without a foreign ID card. i.e. some 28,000 American Servicemembers stationed in Korea. {sigh} Nonetheless, it is awesome that you were able to get something done on behalf of your fellow expats.

  10. Julia,

    Indeed. Worse, it’s “water in the closet again. Though this comment is on the wrong post! :)


    When I call back on Monday, I’ll raise the issue of what people without Alien registration IDs can do to get access, as certain kinds of academics and researchers, depending on how they’re here, also don’t get Alien Registration Numbers. (My friend Mike for example.)

    I’m also planning on at least *trying* to contact someone at Google and communicating why I think they’re doing harm by acquiescing to this kind of policy, and why it’d be better they either didn’t track usage, or tracked it via Google account sign-ins or something.

  11. Sarah,

    Yeah, I got a big fail on my attempt with my iPod and with my PC. Which is running Linux, and yeah, Korea only does Windows, supposedly, but still… why didn’t the interface even load? I’m going to try again in a Busan Starbucks before I go, and contact that person again with my results…

  12. Gord: yes, I did put it in the proper way. Regardless, it didn’t accept the ID number as valid, so it didn’t even try to check it against whatever ‘foreigner database’ it has.
    Today I got the same courteous call you mentioned in your post, telling me they solved the problem.
    I’ll check again later this week…

  13. Matt and EFL Geek: thanks, guys. I just got back to Korea the other night, and haven’t gotten to a Starbucks yet to test it out.

    I can say that I got an email where someone said they’d tested the connection in Ubuntu qith Konqueror and, I think, Opera. It may be the fact that I was using Firefox and not Opera was the barrier. I’ll install Opera (it wasn’t on my netbook, only my home machine) and try it sometime soon.

    Also, bizarrely, I was told support for PDAs and other portable devices was being withdrawn. I’m not sure how feasible that is, but my iPod refused to go to the English-language page to sign in, even when I typed the URL manually.

    I was assured, on the second or third phone conversation, that they’d try have it all in working order by the time I got back to Korea, so maybe tomorrow I’ll get a chance to stop in… if there are any good movies showing in the Bucheon Jjamzone, maybe?

  14. At starbucks now and logged in to google free wi-fi. Worked no problem.

    There is a button for people without a foreigner id. Didn’t click it, but might next time since I’d rather not be tracked by big brother, though I suspect they’ll ask for your passport number or some other dumbassery.

  15. Yay!

    I’ll make sure to test it out if I get time today, since I’m headed into Seoul anyway, and likely will have a few hours to kill between things.

    As for being tracked by Big Brother… this is definitely something I suspect Google doesn’t *quite* know about, though I intend to point it out as prominently as possible.

  16. Whoops, didn’t see this until now… but I wasn’t in Seoul until around 1pm and had an appointment right then.

    (And then I was at the launch of Seoul’s first independent SF lending library… made by fans, for fans. Very cool, but it’s why I’m only seeing this now.)

    Hmm. I find wifi coverage just patchy enough in Seoul not to manage to check my email enough to see stuff like this. Ah well… better than it was in Fukuoka, even if that was an iPod problem, not a Fukuoka problem.

  17. Gord,

    I was out with a friend who has an ipod touch and I could get wifi with my laptop but he couldn’t with the ipod. He told me it’ s problem with the ipod that it needs a strong signal to work. Anyhow that might be why you can’t always get a good connection.

  18. Huh. My iPod has pretty good reception — maybe your friend as a G1? I heard G2 (mine) has much better wifi capabilities…

    No, the problem I had was that it defaulted to the Korean login. I suspect what the Starbucks/Nespot router (?) does is ping the computer when it’s trying to connect, figures out its OS and language, and then connects to the apparently appropriate page. For me, the Korean page loaded, and I couldn’t get the English lage to load at all (not even by typing the URL manually from my laptop’s display.) However, I’ll give it another try.

    I was told, however, that support for PDAs and such isn’t offered… in other words, it’s supposed to be for portable computers only.

  19. Ok, so just to get this straight:

    ID: Alien Reg #
    Password: Name in caps as it appears on the card?

    My friend and I were discussing this just yesterday when it wouldn’t work on his ipod in Starbucks.

    Isn’t Korea supposed to be one of the best places for this kind of technology…??

  20. Katie,

    I think you have it backward: it’s Alien Reg # as password, name all in caps but not spaces in the order it appears on the card. For example, John Marcus Smith would write SMITHJOHNMARCUS.

    But I should note that (a) I was told they wouldn’t be supporting iPod, only laptop computers, for f*ck knows what reason, and (b) my success with using an iPod has varied, usually on the “not working” side of late.

    Korea is supposed to be a world leader in network technology, but unfortunately it’s hamstrung by a few things:

    1. an over-dependence on Windows and even on dated Windows software that nobody else is using now… which as I understand it really comes from laziness and fear of change on the part of programmers, and

    2. a strong anti-competition trend among many companies, notably phone companies, which has manifested most notably in the bitching of consumers who want iPhones and can’t get ’em.

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