Municipalities warn of bogus websites claiming to be official local government pages, some of which feature prominently in Microsoft Corp’s Bing search engine. and even dethrone real sites in the rankings.
The city of Tokushima on June 9 asked residents not to visit a fake webpage mimicking its official website due to the risk that citizens could be scammed out of their personal data.
According to a city official, the fake site appears at the top of Bing search results for the “Tokushima-shi homepage” (Tokushima city website).
The official said the fake site was almost identical to the real one except for its site address, adding that the city could not find its own official page in search results.
The city had not received any reports of fraud related to the fake site as of June 13, according to the official.
“We asked the company in charge of maintaining our website what to do with the fake, but we haven’t figured it out yet,” the manager said. “For now, all we can do is urge residents to exercise caution.”
Other municipalities have also confirmed parodies of their official websites. The cities of Aomori and Nagano are warning residents that their devices could be infected with computer viruses if they visit these fake sites.
Masahiro Tsuji, a search engine optimization expert who analyzes huge amounts of search results, researched the official websites of 150 relatively populated cities across Japan.
It found that at least 18 of the official city pages were not showing up in Bing as they are supposed to as of June 10.
The 18 cities include Aomori, Nagano and Tokushima, as well as Fujisawa in Kanagawa Prefecture and Ichinomiya in Aichi Prefecture, according to Tsuji. He said their numbers started to increase in late May.
But he added that he had no problem finding their official pages when using Google LLC’s search engine.
Google effectively owns over 90% of the Japanese search services market since major Japanese digital platform operator Yahoo Japan Corp. adopted Google’s search engine technology in 2010.
But Bing retained a small market share.
A Microsoft Japan Co. official told The Asahi Shimbun in an email that the company is aware of the fake pages ranking high in Bing’s results, adding that it is working to fix the problem.
But the official declined to comment on the cause of the problem, the extent of the impact and possible countermeasures.