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On the Net

By CHRIS H. SIEROTY, UPI Technology Correspondent

FLORIDA POLICE BUST INTERNET PORN RING

Police in Florida have broken up an Internet prostitution ring that was operating in the United States, Britain, Canada, France and Germany. The Web site, bigdoggie.net, located in Tampa, allowed prostitutes to advertise and arrange dates with customers, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office announced. The Web site is owned and operated by Tampa resident Charles Kelly and Boca Raton resident Steve Lipson, both listed as officers of TBD Partners, Inc. Kelly, 51, and Lipson, 39, were arrested and charged with running the service and 21 Tampa area women were arrested on prostitution charges. As part of the two-year investigation, detectives posted a fictitious ad on the Web site for "Lia Nice" using a photo of a bikini-clad female informant. The ad, which offered the woman's services for $300 an hour, attracted thousands of responses and six men were arrested for solicitation. All agreed to cooperate in the investigation, authorities said.

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BUY.COM OFFERS FREE SHIPPING

Buy.com Inc. has fired the latest salvo in its ongoing war with Amazon.com for the Internet shopper. The Aliso Viejo, Calif., company announced it will offer free shipping with no minimum purchase required. The announcement raises the bar by beating other free shipping offers, including Amazon.com's announcement of free shipping on qualifying orders over $49. "Amazon claims they 'lowered the hurdle' with their free shipping offer -- Buy.com just ran that hurdle over with our free shipping," said Scott Blum, Buy.com's founder and chief executive officer. Items qualifying for free shipping will be identified on Buy.com product information pages by a free shipping icon. On Tuesday, Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos indicated his company's shipping offer may last as long as six months. "We hope we'll be able to make it permanent," he said.


INTEL WINDS DOWN WEB BUSINESS

Semiconductor manufacturer Intel Corp. has announced plans to wind down its Intel Online Services Web hosting business. The company cited current market trends and financial projections for the hosting services for the decision to discontinue operations. The division will continue providing services to existing customers for the next 12 months to ensure a smooth transition. "Our focus now will be to fully support customers and ensure a continued high level of service while we assist them in their transition plans," the company said in a statement. Located in Santa Clara, Calif., Intel manufacturers computer, networking and communications products.

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INTERNET RADIO AUDIENCE RISES

MeasureCast Inc. reported that 22 of the top 25 Internet radio stations streamed more hours during the week ended June 9 than they did the week before, In addition, 13 of the MeasureCast Top 25 attracted larger audiences during the week. This increase in total time spent listening helped push the MeasureCast index up 12 percent. Since Jan. 6, the total time spent listening to Internet radios stations measures by MeasureCast is up 118 percent. In part, the index rose because the week of June 3 had no holiday as the previous week did," said Bill Piwonka, MeasureCast's marketing vice president. "Web casters streamed 574,067 hours on Memorial Day and a week alter ... we recorded 1,414,535 hours streamed, an increase of 146 percent."


SLATE.COM COLUMNIST DIES

Scott Shuger died Saturday in a scuba-diving accident near his home in Los Angeles, according to reports on the Slate.com Web site. He was 50. In 1997, he started the site's most popular column, Today's Papers. Michael Kinsley, Slate's founding editor, said, "Scott turned out to be a natural at knowing exactly the right balance between telling it straight and adding his own insights." Shuger stopped writing the column last September, becoming the site's principal writer about the war on terrorism. Besides his commitments to Slate.com, Shuger once worked for The Washington Monthly and was under contract to develop stories for 20/20 on ABC.

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SALON SIGNS UP 39,500 AT $30

Salon Media Group said 39,500 paid subscribers access its premium-priced content on Salon.com. The company said 7,400 subscribers signed up during the fourth quarter. The site reported it has a total 3.6 million visitors monthly. "We tightened our belts, developed new revenue streams such as paid subscriptions and Salon Personals and positioned Salon to reach profitability," said Michael O'Donnell, Salon's president and chief executive officer. Salon's fourth quarter 2002 net loss decreased 76 percent to $1.4 million, or 10 cents a share, compared to $5.5 million, or 42 cents per share for the same period last year. Salon also added seven new advertisers during the quarter, including Palm, ING and Porsche.


HACKERS STEAL PERSONAL INFO

Hackers who may have links to Russian mobsters apparently have been stealing credit card numbers and other personal information from students at five or more college campuses in the United States. The Arizona Republic reported 20 to 30 students were known to have been victimized by the hackers, who use so-called keystroke recording software to secretly copy the numbers that an unwitting computer user types while checking on bank and credit card accounts over the Internet. "I'm not aware that anyone has been defrauded here yet," Lt. John Sutton of the Arizona State University Department of Public Safety told the newspaper. "We are not ruling out the possibility that victims might trickle in -- or come in en masse." The Secret Service has launched an investigation into the alleged plot and has seized the hard drives from 20 computers available for public Internet use at Arizona State. The trail also has led to student-access computers at unnamed colleges in California, Florida and Texas.

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(Got a tip for On the Net? E-mail it to sciencedesk@upi.com)

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