The National Basketball Association will be the first major test of the new competitive landscape. Its agreements with ESPN and Turner run through the 2024-25 season. Most sports and media executives predict that the league will stick with traditional broadcasters for most of its games, while carving out some small portion of rights for a tech company.

“It hedges them for the future and exposes the product to new audiences,” said George Pyne, founder of the sports private equity firm, Bruin Capital, and the former chief operating officer of NASCAR. “They can still have a long-term relationship with network partners but dip their toe in with new media.”

Until then, the best opportunities for Apple and Amazon may be overseas — where Amazon has been active for years — because European soccer leagues resell their rights every two to three years. Amazon recently scooped up rights to Europe’s top tournament, the UEFA Champions League, in Britain, Germany and Italy. It also has rights to France’s Ligue 1, which it offers to Prime Video subscribers for annual fee of about $90, and the English Premier League.

Media companies will be pressured to expand geographically to compete, said Daniel Cohen, who leads global media rights consulting for Octagon, a sports agency. Television broadcasters could also team up to pool their financial firepower, or buy each other outright, to compete with tech giants willing to pay billions for rights like N.F.L. Sunday Ticket.

“It comes down to a Silicon Valley ego thing,” Mr. Cohen said of the high-dollar N.F.L. deal. “I don’t see a road to profitability. I see a road to victory.”

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Apple to release new ‘Lockdown Mode’ as it battles spyware firms

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July 6 (Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) on Wednesday said it plans to release a new feature called “Lockdown Mode” this fall that aims to add a new layer of protection for human rights advocates, political dissidents and other targets of sophisticated hacking attacks.

The move comes after at least two Israeli firms have exploited flaws in Apple’s software to remotely break into iPhones without the target needing to click or tap anything. NSO Group, the maker of the “Pegasus” software that can carry out such attacks, has been sued by Apple and placed on a trade blacklist by U.S. officials.

“Lockdown Mode” will come to Apple’s iPhones, iPads and Macs this fall and turning it on will block most attachments sent to the iPhone’s Messages app. Security researchers believe NSO Group exploited a flaw in how Apple handled message attachments. The new mode will also block wired connections to iPhones when they are locked. Israeli firm Cellebrite has used such manual connections to access iPhones.

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Apple representatives said that they believe sophisticated attacks the new feature is designed to fight – called “zero click” hacking techniques – are still relatively rare and that most users will not need to active the new mode.

Spyware companies have argued they sell high-powered technology to help governments thwart national security threats. But human rights groups and journalists have repeatedly documented the use of spyware to attack civil society, undermine political opposition, and interfere with elections.

To help harden the new feature, Apple said it will pay up to $2 million for each flaw that security researchers can find in the new mode, which Apple representatives said was the highest such “bug bounty” offered in the industry.

Apple also said it is making a $10 million grant, plus any possible proceeds from its lawsuit against NSO Group, to groups that find, expose and work to prevent targeted hacking. Apple said the grant will go to the Dignity and Justice Fund established by the Ford Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States.

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Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Legal clashes await U.S. companies covering workers’ abortion costs

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June 27 (Reuters) – A growing number of large U.S. companies have said they will cover travel costs for employees who must leave their home states to get abortions, but these new policies could expose businesses to lawsuits and even potential criminal liability, legal experts said.

Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Lyft Inc (LYFT.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) were among companies that announced plans to provide those benefits through their health insurance plans in anticipation of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide. read more

Within an hour of the decision being released, Conde Nast Chief Executive Roger Lynch sent a memo to staff announcing a travel reimbursement policy and calling the court’s ruling “a crushing blow to reproductive rights.” Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) unveiled a similar policy on Friday, telling employees that it recognizes the impact of the abortion ruling but remains committed to providing comprehensive access to quality healthcare, according to a spokesman. read more

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Health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N), Paypal Holdings Inc (PYPL.O), Alaska Airlines Inc (DKS.N) also announced reimbursement policies on Friday.

Abortion restrictions that were already on the books in 13 states went into effect as a result of Friday’s ruling and at least a dozen other Republican-led states are expected to ban abortion.

The court’s decision, driven by its conservative majority, upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. Meanwhile, some Democratic-led states are moving to bolster access to abortion.

Companies will have to navigate that patchwork of state laws and are likely to draw the ire of anti-abortion groups and Republican-led states if they adopt policies supportive of employees having abortions.

State lawmakers in Texas have already threatened Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Lyft, which had earlier announced travel reimbursement policies, with legal repercussions. A group of Republican lawmakers in a letter last month to Lyft Chief Executive Logan Green said Texas “will take swift and decisive action” if the ride-hailing company implements the policy.

The legislators also outlined a series of abortion-related proposals, including a bill that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for residents of the state to receive abortions elsewhere.

LAWSUITS LOOMING

It is likely only a matter of time before companies face lawsuits from states or anti-abortion campaigners claiming that abortion-related payments violate state bans on facilitating or aiding and abetting abortions, according to Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois and expert on healthcare law.

“If you can sue me as a person for carrying your daughter across state lines, you can sue Amazon for paying for it,” Wilson said.

Amazon, Citigroup and other companies that have announced reimbursement policies did not respond to requests for comment. A Lyft spokesperson said: “We believe access to healthcare is essential and transportation should never be a barrier to that access.”

For many large companies that fund their own health plans, the federal law regulating employee benefits will provide crucial cover in civil lawsuits over their reimbursement policies, several lawyers and other legal experts said.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) prohibits states from adopting requirements that “relate to” employer-sponsored health plans. Courts have for decades interpreted that language to bar state laws that dictate what health plans can and cannot cover.

ERISA regulates benefit plans that are funded directly by employers, known as self-insured plans. In 2021, 64% of U.S. workers with employer-sponsored health insurance were covered by self-insured plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Any company sued over an abortion travel reimbursement requirement will likely cite ERISA as a defense, according to Katy Johnson, senior counsel for health policy at the American Benefits Council trade group. And that will be a strong argument, she said, particularly for businesses with general reimbursement policies for necessary medical-related travel rather than those that single out abortion.

Johnson said reimbursements for other kinds of medical-related travel, such as visits to hospitals designated “centers of excellence,” are already common even though policies related to abortion are still relatively rare.

“While this may seem new, it’s not in the general sense and the law already tells us how to handle it,” Johnson said.

LIMITS

The argument has its limits. Fully-insured health plans, in which employers purchase coverage through a commercial insurer, cover about one-third of workers with insurance and are regulated by state law and not ERISA.

Most small and medium-sized U.S. businesses have fully-insured plans and could not argue that ERISA prevents states from limiting abortion coverage.

And, ERISA cannot prevent states from enforcing criminal laws, such as those in several states that make it a crime to aid and abet abortion. So employers who adopt reimbursement policies are vulnerable to criminal charges from state and local prosecutors.

But since most criminal abortion laws have not been enforced in decades, since Roe was decided, it is unclear whether officials would attempt to prosecute companies, according to Danita Merlau, a Chicago-based lawyer who advises companies on benefits issues.

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Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Apple Sees Virtual-Reality Headset as Its Next Big Thing

Apple’s development of virtual-reality content and software tools is central to creating experiences that give its future headset purpose. Its last major new product, the Apple Watch, was launched with about 3,000 apps but struggled to take off because tech reviewers said few of those apps were useful. Similar shortcomings have dogged Meta’s Quest virtual-reality headset, which surpassed 10 million sales last year, because many view it as a gaming device.

From its original Macintosh to its iPad, Apple has pursued products that attract a broad swath of potential customers and have an array of uses. It sold an estimated 240 million iPhones last year, accounting for about half of its $366 billion in total sales. To make the headset worthwhile, analysts said, it will need to have utilities that transcend the niche world of video games.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has been talking about the potential of augmented reality for years. In 2016, he told investors that the company was investing heavily in it and considered it a “great commercial opportunity.” Around that time, many employees on Apple’s campus were reading “Ready Player One,” a futuristic novel about virtual reality, and talking about the possibilities of creating Apple’s own mixed-reality world.

Apple hired an engineer from Dolby Technologies, Mike Rockwell, and tasked him with leading the effort. His early efforts to create an augmented-reality product were hobbled by weak computing power, two people familiar with the project said. Continuing challenges with its battery power have forced Apple to postpone its release until next year, those people said.

The augmented-reality initiative has been divisive inside Apple. At least two members of its industrial design team said they had left the company, in part, because they had some concerns about developing a product that might change the way people interact with one another. Such sensitivities have increased inside the company amid rising public concern about children’s screen time.

With Mr. Rockwell at the helm, the product would be one of the first to come out of Apple led by its engineering team rather than its co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, and its former design chief, Jony Ive, who left the company in 2019. The Apple Watch project was led by Mr. Ive and his designers, who defined how it looked, operated and was marketed.

Mr. Favreau’s programming shows how Apple is trying to differentiate its product from Meta’s. It also illustrates how the company is tapping into the relationships it has cultivated in Hollywood since starting Apple TV+ in 2019.

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Wall St rises on gains in banks, strong retail sales data

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  • Walmart slides after cutting earnings forecast
  • April retail sales rise in line with estimates
  • S&P 500 +2.02%, Nasdaq +2.76%, Dow +1.34%

May 17 (Reuters) – Wall Street finished sharply higher on Tuesday, lifted by Apple, Tesla and other megacap growth stocks after strong retail sales in April eased worries about slowing economic growth.

Ten of the 11 major S&P sector indexes advanced, with financials (.SPSY), materials (.SPLRCM), consumer discretionary (.SPLRCD) and technology (.SPLRCT) all gaining more than 2%.

Investors were cheered by data showing U.S. retail sales increased 0.9% in April as consumers bought motor vehicles amid an improvement in supply and frequented restaurants. read more

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Recently punished shares of Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and Amazon (AMZN.O) gained between 2% and 5.1%, driving the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq higher.

Tuesday’s broad rally followed weeks of selling on the U.S. stock market that last week saw the S&P 500 sink to its lowest level since March 2021.

“The largest pockets of stocks that investors tend to buy have been essentially beaten up. They’re either in correction or bear market territory,” said Sylvia Jablonski, chief investment officer of Defiance ETF. “I think investors are looking at these opportunities to buy on the dip, and I suspect that today is a good day to do that.”

The S&P 500 Banks index (.SPXBK) jumped 3.8%, with Citigroup (C.N) climbing almost 8% after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) disclosed a nearly $3 billion investment in the U.S. lender.

Another set of economic data showed industrial production accelerated 1.1% last month, higher than estimates of 0.5%, and faster than a 0.9% advance in March. read more

“This is consistent with continued economic growth in the second quarter and not a recession underway,” said Bill Adams, chief economist for Comerica Bank in Dallas.

The U.S. Federal Reserve will “keep pushing” to tighten U.S. monetary policy until it is clear inflation is declining, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at an event on Tuesday. read more

Traders are pricing in an 85% chance of a 50-basis point rate hike in June.

The S&P 500 climbed 2.02% to end the session at 4,088.85 points.

The Nasdaq gained 2.76% to 11,984.52 points, while Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.34% to 32,654.59 points.

S&P 500’s busiest trades

Underscoring Wall Street’s recent volatility, the S&P 500 has gained or lost 2% or more in a session some 39 times so far in 2022, compared to 24 times in all of 2021.

Walmart Inc (WMT.N) tumbled 11.4% after the retail giant cut its annual profit forecast, signaling a hit to its margins. That marked the biggest one-day percentage drop for Walmart’s stock since 1987. read more

Retailers Costco (COST.O), Target (TGT.N) and Dollar Tree (DLTR.O) fell between 0.8% and 3.2%.

United Airlines Holdings Inc (UAL.O) gained 7.9% after the carrier lifted its current-quarter revenue forecast, boosting shares of Delta Air (DAL.N), American Airlines (AAL.O) and Spirit Airlines (SAVE.N). read more

A positive first-quarter earnings season has been overshadowed by worries about the conflict in Ukraine, soaring inflation, COVID-19 lockdowns in China and aggressive policy tightening by central banks.

The S&P 500 is down about 14% so far in 2022, and the Nasdaq is off around 23%, hit by tumbling growth stocks.

U.S.-listed Chinese stocks jumped on hopes that China will ease its crackdown on the technology sector. read more

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.92-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.19-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted one new 52-week high and 30 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 24 new highs and 126 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 12.0 billion shares, compared with a 13.3 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

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Reporting by Amruta Khandekar and Devik Jain in Bengaluru, and Noel Randewich in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Why Jony Ive Left Apple to the ‘Accountants’

The new arrangement freed Mr. Ive from regular commutes to the company’s offices in Cupertino. He shifted from near daily product reviews to an irregular schedule when weeks would pass without weighing in. Sometimes word would spread through the studio that he was unexpectedly coming to the office. Employees compared the moments that followed with old footage of the 1920s stock market crash with papers being tossed into the air and people scurrying around in a furious rush to prepare for his arrival.

With anticipation mounting on Wall Street for a 10th-anniversary iPhone in early 2017, Mr. Ive summoned the company’s top software designers to San Francisco for a product review. A team of about 20 arrived at the city’s exclusive social club, The Battery, and began spreading out 11-by-17-inch printouts of design ideas in the club’s penthouse. They needed Mr. Ive’s approval for several features on the first iPhone with a full-screen display.

They waited that day for nearly three hours for Mr. Ive. When he finally arrived, he didn’t apologize. He reviewed their printouts and offered feedback. He then left without making final decisions. As their work stalled, many wondered, How did it come to this?

In Mr. Ive’s absence, Mr. Cook began reshaping the company in his image. He replaced the outgoing company director Mickey Drexler, the gifted marketer who built Gap and J. Crew, with James Bell, the former finance chief at Boeing. Mr. Ive was irate that a left-brained executive had supplanted one of the board’s few right-brained leaders. “He’s another one of those accountants,” he complained to a colleague.

Mr. Cook also emboldened the company’s finance department, which began auditing outside contractors. At one point, the department rejected a legitimate billing submitted by Foster + Partners, the architecture firm working closely with Mr. Ive to complete the company’s new $5 billion campus, Apple Park.

Amid those struggles, Mr. Cook began to broaden Apple’s strategy into selling more services. During a corporate retreat in 2017, Mr. Ive stepped outside to get fresh air when a newcomer to Apple named Peter Stern stepped before the company’s top leaders. Mr. Stern clicked to a slide of an X-shaped chart that showed Apple’s profit margins from sales of iPhones, iPads and Macs declining while profit margins rose from sales of software and services like its iCloud storage.

The presentation alarmed some people in the audience. It depicted a future in which Mr. Ive — and the company’s business as a product maker — would matter less and Mr. Cook’s increasing emphasis on services, like Apple Music and iCloud, would matter more.

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As Stocks Fall, Economic Fears Rise, Along With Inflation

Broadly speaking, earnings reports have shown that profit growth continues, and results from some big firms, like Microsoft and Facebook’s parent, Meta Platforms, did briefly ease the panic on Wall Street. About 80 percent of companies in the S&P 500 to report results through Thursday did better than analysts had expected, data from FactSet shows.

But other companies have only added to the downdraft. Netflix plunged after it said last week that it expected to lose subscribers — 200,000 in the first three months of the year, and an additional two million in the current quarter. The stock dropped more than 49 percent for the month.

On Friday, Amazon slid 14.1 percent after it reported its first quarterly loss since 2015, citing rising fuel and labor costs and warning that sales would slow. Its shares fell 23.8 percent in April.

General Electric warned on Tuesday that the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would weigh on its results. Its shares fell 10 percent that day and about 18.5 percent for the month.

The war, which began in February, brought a new risk to the fragile global supply chain: Western countries’ sanctions on Russia, including a ban on oil imports from the country by the United States, and European promises to limit purchases of Russian oil and gas.

Now, executives are also assessing how the Covid-19 lockdowns in China, which has the world’s second-largest economy, could affect profit margins. Multiple Chinese cities are on lockdown, and although factories remain open, the country’s draconian “zero Covid” policy has led to interruptions in shipments and delays in delivery times.

Texas Instruments Inc. and the machinery maker Caterpillar cautioned investors this week that the lockdowns in China were affecting the company’s manufacturing operations. On Thursday, Apple also warned that the outbreak there would hamper demand and production of iPhones and other products. The company’s shares fell 3.7 percent on Friday, and ended April with a loss of 9.7 percent.

The outlook for the economy, the effects of the Ukraine invasion, the lockdowns in China and exactly how fast the Fed will raise interest rates are still not clear. Markets are likely to stay volatile until they are.

“There are definitely a lot of open-ended and unquantified risks looming,” said Victoria Greene, the chief investment officer at G Squared Private Wealth, an advisory firm. “The U.S. economy lives and dies for the consumer, and as soon as this consumer starts to slow down, I think that will hit the economy hard.”

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How Tech Companies Are Trying to Woo Employees Returning to Work

When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun.” Explore the place a little. Don’t book back-to-back meetings.

Also, don’t forget to attend the private show by Lizzo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will feature “every Googler’s favorite duo: food and swag.”

But Google employees in Boulder, Colo., were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them mouse pads with the image of a sad-eyed cat. Underneath the pet was a plea: “You’re not going to RTO, right?”

R.T.O., for return to office, is an abbreviation born of the pandemic. It is a recognition of how Covid-19 forced many companies to abandon office buildings and empty cubicles. The pandemic proved that being in the office does not necessarily equal greater productivity, and some firms continued to thrive without meeting in person.

a happy hour with its chief executive, Cristiano Amon, at its San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drink and T-shirts. The company also started offering weekly events such as pop-up snack stands on “Take a Break Tuesday” and group fitness classes for “Wellness Wednesday.”

the surveys, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.

After a number of postponements, Google kicked off its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to show up at U.S. offices a few days a week. Apple started easing staff back to the office on Monday, with workers expected to check in at the office once a week at first.

reimburse $49 monthly leases for an electric scooter as part of its transportation options for staff. Google also plans to also start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to changing work styles.

When Microsoft employees returned to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they were greeted with “appreciation events” and lawn games such as cornhole and life-size chess. There were classes for spring basket making and canvas painting. The campus pub transformed into a beer, wine and “mocktail” garden.

And, of course, there was free food and drink: pizzas, sandwiches and specialty coffees. Microsoft paid for food trucks with offerings including fried chicken, tacos, gyros, Korean food and barbecue.

Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for their own food at the office. One employee marveled at how big a draw the free food was.

signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. It was a rare show of dissent from the company’s rank-and-file, who historically have been less willing to openly challenge executives on workplace matters.

But as tech companies grapple with offering employees greater work flexibility, the firms are also scaling back some office perks.

cutting back or eliminating free services like laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, has said it approved requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or transfer to a different office. But if employees move to a less expensive location, Google is cutting pay, arguing that it has always factored in where a person was hired in setting compensation.

Clio, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, won’t force its employees back to the office. But last week, it gave a party at its offices.

There was upbeat music. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in Clio’s signature bright blue, dark blue, coral and white — perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s best-known workers donned a safari costume to give tours of the facility. At 2 p.m., the company held a cupcake social.

To make its work spaces feel more like home, the company moved desks to the perimeter, allowing Clions — what the company calls its employees — to gaze out at the office complex’s cherry blossoms while banging out emails. A foosball table was upgraded to a workstation with chairs on either end, “so you could have a meeting while playing foosball with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of people.

Clio’s Burnaby office, which employs 350, is open at only half capacity. Spaced-out desks must be reserved, and employees got red, yellow and green lanyards to convey their comfort levels with handshakes.

Only around 60 people came in that Monday. “To be able to have an IRL laugh rather than an emoji response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are just excited for that.”

Karen Weise contributed reporting.

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How You’re Still Being Tracked on the Internet

While Meta adjusts, some small businesses have begun seeking other avenues for ads. Shawn Baker, the owner of Baker SoftWash, an exterior cleaning company in Mooresville, N.C., said it previously took about $6 of Facebook ads to identify a new customer. Now it costs $27 because the ads do not find the right people, he said.

Mr. Baker has started spending $200 a month to advertise through Google’s marketing program for local businesses, which surfaces his website when people who live in the area search for cleaners. To compensate for those higher marketing costs, he has raised his prices 7 percent.

“You’re spending more money now than what you had to spend before to do the same things,” he said.

Other tech giants with first-party information are capitalizing on the change. Amazon, for example, has reams of data on its customers, including what they buy, where they reside, and what movies or TV shows they stream.

In February, Amazon disclosed the size of its advertising business — $31.2 billion in revenue in 2021 — for the first time. That makes advertising its third-largest source of sales after e-commerce and cloud computing. Amazon declined to comment.

Amber Murray, the owner of See Your Strength in St. George, Utah, which sells stickers online for people with anxiety, started experimenting with ads on Amazon after the performance of Facebook ads deteriorated. The results were remarkable, she said.

In February, she paid about $200 for Amazon to feature her products near the top of search results when customers looked up textured stickers. Sales totaled $250 a day and continued to grow, she said. When she spent $85 on a Facebook ad campaign in January, it yielded just $37.50 in sales, she said.

“I think the golden days of Facebook advertising are over,” Ms. Murray said. “On Amazon, people are looking for you, instead of you telling people what they should want.”

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