Discriminatory Practices of Korean Websites

by Lou Ann Lee, 26/03/2010


If you’re not a Korean citizen you can't order movie tickets online from most theatre chains in Korea, nor can you buy anything from most e-markets or get seats at the majority of small or big ticket performances. You can’t make airline reservations or even access some information sites or service programs, including those targeting foreign residents and/or visitors. Why? Because to do so you have to have a Korean ID number – not a number issued in Korea, but rather one that proves that you are a Korean citizen.

In a country that proudly proclaims itself to be the most wired in the world, it is not surprising to find that most people reserve their seats at movie theatres or performance halls, in advance, via the Internet. Grocery and every other kind of shopping on-line is common in Korea – prices are often lower, the goods are delivered and you don’t have to deal with the traffic on the way to the ‘store’ or even the occasional crowds within…plus, you can shop on your time schedule. But even if language isn’t an issue (the majority of sites are in Korean only), only Korean citizens can take advantage of these services.

Why do online services such as Internet shopping malls, some on-line banking services and even most information sites require visitors to register both their names and ID numbers in order to access the site or to use the its services? Allegedly, it’s to prevent identify theft. However, some wonder if this overuse of ID numbers has not, in fact, had the opposite effect, especially as one’s ID number and credit card are used together for so many on-line transactions. In fact, in 2009 and already in 2010,  the media has reported on hackers 'stealing' ID information on millions of customers of various websites. Many suspect, that the true motive behind the practice is more in line with 'Big-brother-style' marketing tools.

Even if one were to agree that this practice is helpful in combating ID theft, it doesn’t explain why the system is limited to Korean ID numbers only. About a decade ago, the government changed the ‘alien registration card’ number to a 13-digit one to make it compatible with the Korean ID number. What they didn’t think to change, however, was the configuration of the numbers. For example the ‘gender’ designation on a Korean citizen’s number is 1 for males and 2 for females, while a foreign resident’s number shows 5 for males and 6 for females.

Back in November 2008, the local newspapers reported that the National Human Rights Commission had recommended that website operators simplify their identification procedures for foreigners and urged the four identification service agencies (Korea Association of Information and Telecommunication, National Information and Credit Evaluation Inc., Seoul Credit Rating and Information Inc., and Korea Information Service Inc.) to develop measures to enable them to do so. (According to the Korean Information Protection Law, private firms with more than 100,000 on-line visitors a day and government-run agencies are required to check the identification of their users to protect them from identity theft).

Korean ID numbers are still required on most websites, even for services targeting foreign residents and visitors. A few sites do, however, now accept foreign ID numbers or have eliminated the requirement. For example CGV now has foreign membership, while Interlink has set up a global section where both foreign residents and visitors can order tickets to some events. (K4E note: if you know of other sites that either accept foreign ID numbers or don't require any ID number, please let us know either in the comments section below or by writing us at info@korea4expats.com).

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