Amazon Unveils 20 Potential Sites for Second Headquarters

Today’s topics include Amazon releasing its list of 20 potential second headquarter sites; Dark Caracal targeting Android devices in a global cyber-espionage campaign; IBM showing positive revenue growth for the first time in six years; and Google planning to use page speed as a mobile search ranking factor.

Amazon has released its much-anticipated short list of cities and metro areas it is considering for the location of its second headquarters, and several things jump out: Most are on or near the East Coast, nearly half are on the so-called Acela rail Corridor between Washington and Boston, and three of the 20 cities that are still in contention are in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Surprisingly, a few of the cities on the list are missing some of Amazon’s “must-have” items. Access to mass transit is one requirement that a number of cities in the top 20 list are lacking, as is access to a major international airport. Many of the cities on the list only have primarily domestic airports.

Of the cities that meet all of Amazon’s requirements, it seems that the Acela Corridor cities, along with Chicago, have the edge.

A nation-state backed cyber-espionage campaign known as Dark Caracal has extracted hundreds of gigabytes of data from victims around the world since it became operational in 2012, according the Electronic Frontier Foundation and security firm Lookout.

A 51-page report that the EFF and Lookout released on Jan. 18 details the global operations of Dark Caracal, which allegedly are being conducted out of an office building operated by the Lebanese General Directorate of General Security in Beirut. The researchers discovered that Dark Caracal uses the Pallas mobile malware that targets Android devices.

Using Android malware, Dark Caracal has been able to steal 264,535 files and intercept 486,766 text messages.  "We are aware of thousands of victims in 21 countries, but … there are likely many more," said Michael Flossman, security research services tech lead at Lookout.

In its fourth quarter, IBM showed positive revenue for the first time in 23 quarters. The last time IBM reported revenue growth from a prior year was in the first quarter of 2012, which was Ginni Rometty's first as CEO.

Revenue rose 3.6 percent to $22.54 billion from a year ago, compared to analysts’ average estimate of $22.06 billion, and net income for operations was $4.8 billion, up 1 percent year over year.

IBM is now showing through increased revenue the major strides it has made into new-generation IT segments. For example, IBM reported Q4 sales totaling $11.1 billion in so-called “strategic imperatives,” which include products and services in cloud services, big data and analytics, security and mobility applications. That’s an increase of 17 percent from last year.

Starting in July, Google will take into account the speed at which pages load on mobile devices when ranking websites in mobile search results. Generally, websites with fast loading pages will get a higher ranking in search results than those of the same quality content but with slower page speeds.

The Speed Update is designed to encourage website owners to optimize their sites for mobile use at a time when a growing number of people have begun using smartphones and tablets to browse and search online. Even after the change kicks in, a slow page still has the potential to rank highly in search results if the content is strong and relevant enough to the query.

The inclusion of speed as a ranking factor for mobile search will "only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries," said Google engineers Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan.