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DeNA pulls eight online services amid reporting scandal

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Staff Writer

A company behind a health care information website under fire over inaccurate, plagiarized articles on Thursday said it had temporarily suspended operations of eight other niche online services.

It emerged this week that articles on DeNA Co.’s website Welq were not properly fact-checked and that outside contributors were told to write stories by taking information from other medical websites and rewriting it.

“It was seriously wrong to provide medical information in an inappropriate manner when it needed to be handled with extra care,” DeNA CEO Isao Moriyasu said in a statement Thursday.

BuzzFeed Japan on Monday revealed how DeNA, which is better known for its mobile game business and professional baseball team, used a manual to instruct its writers on how to create stories that are likely to top search engine lists as well as how to rewrite information to avoid simply copying and pasting, which could draw accusations of plagiarism.

As a result, the stories were a hodgepodge of information from various sites and lacked any attribution.

Stories included those that gave tips on curing physical problems, such as headaches, backaches or insomnia. Some experts pointed out on the internet that many errors appeared to derive from the rewriting process.

The BuzzFeed report said DeNA recruited writers through online-job matching services, with one writer reportedly receiving ¥1,000 for a 2,000-word story. DeNA declined to confirm the rate.

The company also posted a disclaimer on Welq, saying that it was not responsible for the accuracy of content.

After BuzzFeed Japan’s report, DeNA temporarily closed Welq on Tuesday but continued to operate its other services.

Welq is described as so-called curated news or a content aggregation service, which generally collects stories from other media.

DeNA said Welq allowed anyone, including individual users, to write stories for the service.

Moriyasu said the eight other curated content websites that specialize in areas such as travel and food had a similar reporting method, so it decided to close them temporarily, vowing that the firm will create a more thorough fact-checking system.

The fact that there was a manual and that the firm requested its writers to use information from other websites cannot be justified, said Moriyasu.

“It is wrong to keep providing articles under the current system,” he said.

Experts said the problem was significant given that it involved medical information that could affect people’s lives.

If this was information on food or fashion, that would depend on people’s taste. But if people find out that the information they have searched for is wrong when they have a headache or stomachache, “It would naturally draw criticism,” said Hitoshi Sato, chief consultant at Tokyo-based technology think tank InfoCom Research Inc. “I wish DeNA had a stronger sense of morality as a company.”

Moreover, Sato said the need for useful medical information is big on the internet and DeNA took advantage of that.

Medical and health care information “can draw many people to the service, which means it has the potential to make money. In the end, I think that side became the priority for DeNA,” said Sato.

Many Welq stories appeared on top Google searches. For instance, in a search for “headache and remedy” in Japanese, two Welq stories come up first.

Sato said since DeNA is an IT firm, it should be well versed on how to create articles optimized for a Google search result.

Last month Moriyasu reported DeNA’s August to October earnings and stressed that its curated content websites were growing “more than expected.”

He said at the time that sales from the business would increase by around ¥500 million each quarter going forward.

According to Nielsen Co.’s report in July, Welq was ranked first among websites that specialize in certain fields with 6.31 million users a month at the time.

With overall sales and profit declining over the past several years, DeNA has been expanding its business to new areas, including self-driving taxis and online manga services.