provided to Variety. When his appeal was measured again in July, (before he released his video apology) it dropped to a 24 from a 39, what Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, called a “precipitous decline.”

Apple has delayed films before. In 2019, the company pushed back the release of one of its first feature films, “The Banker,” starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson, after a daughter of one of the men whose life served as a basis of the film raised allegations of sexual abuse involving her family. The film was ultimately released in March 2020 after Apple said it reviewed “the information available to us, including the filmmakers’ research.”

Many in Hollywood are drawn to Apple for its willingness to spend handsomely to acquire prominent projects connected with established talent. But the company has also been criticized for its unwillingness to spend much to market those same projects. Two people who have worked with the company, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss dealings with Apple, said it usually created just one trailer for a film — a frustrating approach for those who are accustomed to the traditional Hollywood way of producing multiple trailers aimed at different audiences. Apple prefers to rely on its Apple TV+ app and in-store marketing to attract audiences.

Yet those familiar with Apple’s thinking believe that even if it chooses to release “Emancipation” this year, it will not feature the film in its retail outlets like it did for “CODA,” which in March became the first movie from a streaming service to win best picture. That achievement, of course, was overshadowed by the controversy involving Mr. Smith.

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Ukraine’s Donbas, Where Putin Sowed the Seeds of War

CHASIV YAR, Ukraine — On a clear spring morning eight years ago, Oleksandr Khainus stepped outside his house to go to work at the town factory when he spotted new graffiti scrawled across his fence. “Glory to Russia,” vandals had written in angry black spray paint. “Putin,” another message said.

Mr. Khainus was perplexed. It was true that Chasiv Yar, the Rust Belt-like town where he has spent his entire life in a region called the Donbas, had long contained many conflicting opinions on its identity. Geographically, the Donbas was part of Ukraine, no question, but it was so close to Russia and so tied to it historically that many maintained that their true home really lay eastward.

“It was the type of stuff you’d argue about over the dinner table,” he said. “But nothing that anyone would get violent over.”

protests exploded. Armed separatists seized chunks of the Donbas right under the authorities’ noses. Two so-called People’s Republics were declared. Russian troops stormed in.

the most far-reaching war in generations. It was the Donbas that became Mr. Putin’s pretext for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And now it is heating up again.

masterful offensive in the Kharkiv region, in Ukraine’s northeast, where town after town fell without a shot. Now they are heading south. Columns of dark green military trucks and American-made rocket launchers are thundering down the long, straight highways into the Donbas. But they will have a much harder fight on their hands.

Wagner Group and close air cover because of the proximity to the Russian border. They can also rely on separatist fighters and a well-financed network of citizen-spies who relay secret information to the invaders, often with devastating consequences.

Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russia president, out of office. Mr. Yanukovych came from a Donbas steel town. In one stroke, Russia lost its ally and the Donbas elite its godfather. That is when the trouble started.

People flooded into the Donbas streets waving Russian flags. At first, said Alisa Sopova, a journalist for a Donbas newspaper at the time, “We were sure they were fake people brought in from Russia to pose for Russian TV.”

to speak so much Russian. A critical aspect of Ukrainian independence was reviving the Ukrainian language, marginalized during Soviet times. But those arguments were typically confined to social media posts or intellectual debates, until this moment.

“I’d go into the supermarket to buy some meat, and the shopkeeper tells me, ‘If you don’t speak Ukrainian, I’m not going to sell you any meat,’” Mr. Tsyhankov said. “I’ve been speaking Russian my whole life. How do you think that made me feel?”

done something similar in 2008 in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions of Georgia, and before that the Russians had meddled in Moldova, backing the breakaway Transnistria region. The tools were generally the same: bankrolling pro-Russia political parties; deploying intelligence agents to foment protests; sowing disinformation through Russian TV.

Mr. Putin’s strategy was to turn strategic slices of the former Soviet Union into separatist hotbeds to hobble young nations like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, all struggling to break free from Moscow and move closer to Europe.

Under the Kremlin’s wing, Donbas’s separatists killed Ukrainian officials, took territory and declared the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. When Ukrainian forces rolled in to quell the rebellion, some residents saw them as occupiers. They spoke a different language, hailed from a different region, embraced a different culture — or so went the pro-Russia narrative. In some villages, babushkas lay down in the roads blocking Ukrainian tanks, officers said, and in one, an especially cunning babushka kept stealing the soldiers’ helmets.

“It was frustrating,” said Anatolii Mohyla, a Ukrainian military commander. “We’d come to liberate them and they’d give us the finger.”

Mr. Putin dispatched thousands of Russian troops to support the separatists, later saying he had been “forced to protect” the Russian-speaking population. Towns like Chasiv Yar were occupied by separatist fighters, then liberated by Ukrainian troops a few months later. By 2015, the heavy fighting had died down. But it was not like Mr. Putin forgot about the Donbas.

He upped the ante in 2021, saying, “Kyiv simply does not need the Donbas.” And on Feb. 21 of this year, three days before he invaded Ukraine, Mr. Putin accused the Ukrainian government of perpetrating a “genocide.” He justified the most cataclysmic war in decades by citing the very tensions he himself stoked.

In early April, the agricultural land around Chasiv Yar began to thaw. Mr. Khainus, the pro-Ukraine farmer, drove out to check a sunflower field. A Ukrainian military vehicle raced up. A soldier leaned out the window and fired an assault rifle, the bullets skipping up in the dirt. Mr. Khainus slammed on the brakes.

A Ukrainian commander he recognized, a man whom Mr. Khainus said he had complained about before, jumped out. The commander greeted him with a punch to the head, Mr. Khainus said, and then smashed him in the face with a rifle butt.

He does not remember much after that. He shared photographs of himself lying in a hospital bed with two black eyes. Military and law enforcement officials declined to comment.

Mr. Khainus remains a supporter of the military, saying, “One stupid person doesn’t represent the army.”

But, he added wryly: “It’s one thing to be a patriot in Kyiv. It’s another to be a patriot in the Donbas.”

At 9 p.m. on July 9, four cruise missiles slammed into a dormitory at the old ceramic plant. The buildings crumbled as if they were made out of sand. Viacheslav Boitsov, an emergency services official, said there were “no military facilities nearby.”

But according to Mr. Mohyla and Oleksandr Nevydomskyi, another Ukrainian military officer, Ukrainian soldiers were staying in that building. The night before, they said, a mysterious man was seen standing outside flashing light signals, most likely pinpointing the position.

The military calls such spies “correctors,” and they relay navigational information to the Russians to make missile and artillery strikes more precise. Ukrainian officials have arrested more than 20 and say correctors are often paid several hundred dollars after a target is hit. The strike in Chasiv Yar was one of the deadliest: 48 killed, including 18 soldiers, the officers said.

“For sure there are Russian agents in this town,” Mr. Mohyla said. “There might even be spies in our unit.”

Few in Chasiv Yar are confident that the town will stay in government hands.

Mr. Khainus said the Russians were steadily moving closer to his sunflower fields. About a week ago, a friend’s house was shelled. A day later, in an online messaging channel, separatist supporters said Mr. Khainus should be next, calling him a “hero” — adding an epithet.

Is he scared?

“Why should I be?” he said. “They’re nobodies.”

Mr. Tsyhankov, the retired dump truck driver nostalgic for the Soviet times, seemed pained by all of the bloodshed but did not blame the Russians or the separatists. “They’re doing the right thing,” he said. “They’re fighting for the Russian language and their territory.”

As he said goodbye, insisting that his guests take with them a jug of his homemade apple juice and some fresh green grapes, he shook his head at the enormity of it. “Why can’t we be friends with you guys, the Americans?” he asked. “Politics are keeping all of us hostage.”

Every night, the horizon in Chasiv Yar lights up with explosions. Ukrainian soldiers operate here almost as if they are on enemy territory, hiving themselves off from the public, watching their backs, traveling by night in long convoys of cars with the lights blacked out, the drivers wearing night vision goggles. According to separatist messaging channels, the Wagner mercenaries have reached the outskirts of Bakhmut, a major Donbas town. As for Soledar, it is now off limits to journalists, but volunteers there trying to rescue civilians say it is as deadly as ever.

People here used to describe the Donbas in simple terms like “beautiful,” “honest,” “unbreakable” and “free.”

Now it is destroyed, depopulated, sad and empty.

“It’s like the Rust Belt,” Ms. Sopova said. “It’s not needed anymore. All that industry is obsolete.”

Countless communities have risen in the Donbas. Many are now falling. Ms. Sopova glimpses a perhaps not so faraway future where the Donbas goes back to what it once was: a wild field.

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting.

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A Who’s Who of Silicon Valley Lawyers Up for the Musk-Twitter Trial

Jack Dorsey, a founder of Twitter, got a subpoena. So did Marc Andreessen, a prominent venture capitalist. Larry Ellison, Oracle’s chairman, and the investors David Sacks and Joe Lonsdale received them, too.

They were all summoned to share what they know about the rancorous, knock-down, drag-out tech spectacle of the year: the fight between Twitter and Elon Musk, the world’s richest man.

Mr. Musk enthusiastically agreed to buy Twitter in April for $44 billion, but has since tried to back out of the blockbuster deal, leading to lawsuits and recriminations. Both sides are set for a showdown in Delaware Chancery Court in October over whether Mr. Musk needs to stick with the acquisition. The torrent of legal demands in the case has forced a who’s who of Silicon Valley to now lawyer up, creating a heyday for top-tier law firms.

unsolicited bid worth more than $40 billion for the social network, saying he wanted to make Twitter a private company and allow people to speak more freely on the service.

Of the two sides, Twitter has so far been more aggressive in the discovery process for the case. The company has issued more than 84 subpoenas to uncover discussions that might prove that Mr. Musk soured on the acquisition because the economic downturn decreased his personal wealth. (Mr. Musk’s net worth still stands at $259 billion, according to Bloomberg.)

Twitter has sent subpoenas to Mr. Musk’s friends and associates, such as the former SpaceX board member Antonio Gracias and the entertainment executive Kristina Salen, to get insight into their group chats. The company has also summoned investors like Mr. Andreessen and Mr. Ellison, who agreed to pony up money so Mr. Musk could do the deal.

Mr. Musk himself has agreed to sift through every text he sent or received between Jan. 1 and July 8 for messages relevant to Twitter. His side’s subpoena total stands at more than 36 — including one to Mr. Dorsey — as Mr. Musk tries to show that Twitter lied about the number of inauthentic accounts on its platform, which he has cited as a reason to pull out of the deal.

Mr. Musk has demanded voluminous data from Twitter, including correspondence among its board members and years of account information. Last Thursday, the court granted Mr. Musk a limited set of 9,000 accounts that Twitter audited to determine how many bots were on the platform during a particular quarter. He has also subpoenaed the company’s bankers, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.

But Mr. Musk has also shown his unhappiness over Twitter’s attempts to obtain his group chats. This month, his lawyers tried limiting the company’s inquiries, saying they did not plan to turn over messages from “friends and acquaintances with whom Mr. Musk may have had passing exchanges regarding Twitter.”

tweeted.

Mr. Sacks, another friend of Mr. Musk’s who worked with him at PayPal, responded to a subpoena from Twitter with a tweet that included an image of a Mad magazine cover featuring a giant middle finger.

In a court filing on Friday, Mr. Sacks’s lawyers, who filed a motion to quash the subpoenas, said he had produced 90 documents for Twitter so far. They accused the company of “harassing” Mr. Sacks and creating “significant” legal bills for him by subpoenaing him in California and Delaware.

A lawyer for Mr. Sacks did not respond to a request for comment.

Kathaleen McCormick, the judge overseeing the case, has largely waved off Mr. Musk’s objections about the subpoenas to his friends. Mr. Musk’s conduct in discovery “has been suboptimal,” and his requests for years of data were “absurdly broad” she wrote in rulings last week.

“Defendants cannot refuse to respond to a discovery request because they have unilaterally deemed the request irrelevant,” Ms. McCormick wrote. “Even assuming that Musk has many friends and family members, Defendants’ breadth, burden, and proportionality arguments ring hollow.”

Ed Zimmerman, a lawyer who represents start-ups and venture capitalists, said it wasn’t surprising that Silicon Valley techies appeared unwilling to be drawn into the case. The venture industry has long operated with little regulatory oversight. Investors have only begrudgingly become more accustomed to legal processes as their industry has fallen under more scrutiny, he said.

“Venture for so long has been very accustomed to being an outsider thing,” he said. “We didn’t have to focus on following all the rules, and there wasn’t that much litigation.”

For law firms, Mr. Musk’s battle with Twitter has become a bonanza — especially financially.

“I’m sure they’re all hiring fancy high-end law firms,” Mr. Melkonian said. “Those guys are going to charge thousands of dollars per hour for preparation.”

That’s if you can find a lawyer at all. Between Mr. Musk and Twitter, they have sewn up a passel of top law firms.

Twitter has hired five law firms with expertise in corporate disputes and Delaware law: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Potter Anderson & Corroon; Ballard Spahr; Kobre & Kim; and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Mr. Musk has retained a team of four firms: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Chipman Brown Cicero & Cole; and Sheppard Mullin.

Other leading tech law firms — including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Perkins Coie, Baker McKenzie, and Fenwick & West — declined to comment, citing conflicts in the case.

Lawyers sitting on the sidelines probably feel left out, Mr. Zimmerman said. “If I were a trial lawyer in San Francisco, with a specialty of dealing with venture funds and the growth companies they invest in, there ought to be that FOMO,” he said, referring to the shorthand for the “fear of missing out.”

For those who have been tapped, the next several months are likely to be chaotic.

“For people who do this work, this is what we live for,” said Karen Dunn, a litigator for tech companies who has represented Apple and Uber, and who is not involved in the Twitter case. “It moves incredibly fast, it is all consuming.”

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Cannabis fintech Bespoke to expand BNPL base in cash-starved industry

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An employee puts down an eighth of marijuana after letting a customer smell it outside the Magnolia cannabis lounge in Oakland, California, U.S. April 20, 2018. Friday marked the first ‘4/20’ since the sale of recreational marijuana became legal on January 1. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

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Aug 25 (Reuters) – Fintech firm Bespoke Financial is looking to expand its ‘buy now pay later’ service for cannabis businesses in California and Massachusetts later this year, its Chief Executive George Mancheril said on Thursday.

The push comes after a successful pilot launch in July that allowed cannabis retail outlets to buy products from producers using the service that allows them to pay back after its sale.

The service that uses partner point-of-sales firm Blaze’s software is coming to the weed sector struggling to get funds from banks as it is classified as illegal under federal rules.

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Amid slow banking and legal reforms, the sector is going through a downturn, with marijuana stocks losing nearly 80% of their value from their high in February last year.

“Cannabis has always been its own microcosm, where because of federal illegality we have less access to capital relative to other industries,” Mancheril said in an interview with Reuters.

The plan by Bespoke and Blaze also comes at a stormy time for other BNPL firms as their valuations take a hit from spiraling inflation that has slowed consumer spending.

The two fintech firms believe their service can sidestep such worries as they tap into larger fees from companies, especially the niche cannabis industry, rather than consumers.

“With B2B, there’s a way to actually underwrite risk and to measure risk, in a way that’s much more difficult than on the consumer level,” Mancheril said.

The sector’s financing hurdles is a boon for Bespoke as there is no competition from larger BNPL firms, said Karan Wadhera, managing partner at Casa Verde Capital, a venture capital firm that funds cannabis startups including Bespoke.

“We’re not seeing Affirm or Klarna, and definitely not Apple come into our space anytime soon.”

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Reporting by Ruhi Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Buffett’s Berkshire boosts Ally, Activision holdings; sheds Verizon

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Aug 15 (Reuters) – Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N), run by billionaire Warren Buffett, has tripled its stake in online banking company Ally Financial Inc (ALLY.N) and increased its bet that “Call of Duty” video game maker Activision Blizzard Inc (ATVI.O) will be acquired by Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O).

In a Monday regulatory filing describing its U.S.-listed equity investments as of June 30, Berkshire also said it exited what was once an $8.3 billion investment in Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and no longer owns Royalty Pharma Plc (RPRX.O), which buys drug royalties.

The filing does not specify whether Buffett or his portfolio managers Todd Combs and Ted Weschler made specific purchases and sales, but investors often try to mimic what Berkshire does. Larger investments are normally Buffett’s.

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Berkshire slowed its stock buying spree in the second quarter as U.S. stock markets fell, purchasing $6.2 billion of stocks and selling $2.3 billion. It had bought $51.1 billion and sold $9.7 billion in the first quarter.

Nevertheless, Buffett’s conglomerate, which also owns dozens of businesses such as the BNSF railroad and Geico auto insurer, ended June with a $327.7 billion equity portfolio, led by $125.1 billion in Apple Inc (AAPL.O).

It also invested more than $33 billion in two oil companies, Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and Occidental Petroleum Corp (OXY.N), as oil prices surged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Berkshire has since purchased another $1.7 billion of Occidental stock, boosting its stake to 20.2%. read more It also owns $10 billion of Occidental preferred stock.

In the second quarter, Berkshire’s Ally stake grew to 30 million shares from about 9 million, while its Activision stake grew to 68.4 million shares, worth $5.3 billion, from 64.3 million.

The Activision investment is a form of arbitrage, where Buffett appears to be betting that investors are pessimistic that regulators will approve Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion takeover of the company.

According to Monday’s filing, Berkshire also increased its holdings during the second quarter in Apple, Celanese Corp (CE.N), Chevron, Markel Corp (MKL.N), McKesson Corp (MCK.N), Occidental and Paramount Global (PARA.O).

It reduced its holdings in General Motors Co (GM.N), Kroger Co (KR.N), Store Capital Corp (STOR.N) and US Bancorp (USB.N), the filing shows.

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Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Editing by Franklin Paul and Josie Kao

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Emerson Marks ENERGY STAR® Award with Smart Thermostat Promotion to Ameren Missouri Customers

ST. LOUIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–In celebration of Emerson’s Sensi™ smart thermostat being named the first smart thermostat to receive the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence Award, St. Louis companies Emerson and Ameren Missouri are teaming up to offer consumers special, energy-saving technology.

Through this latest collaboration, Ameren Missouri customers can receive an energy savings bundle that includes both a Sensi smart thermostat and an Emporia smart plug for only $1 plus required sales tax.

“Sensi is the first thermostat to win this recognition from ENERGY STAR, and we’re proud to partner with Ameren Missouri to ensure customers across the state can benefit from this smart, sustainable technology at very little cost,” said Jamie Froedge, executive president of Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions business. “We’re proud to help consumers use energy more efficiently while saving money and having even greater control over their personal comfort, no matter the temperature outside.”

Emerson’s Sensi smart thermostat helps customers save money and reduce their carbon footprint by heating and cooling homes more efficiently through features like flexible scheduling, remote access via the mobile app and geofencing to help automatically adjust their temperature when they’re away. The Sensi smart thermostat does not require a common wire, is easy to install and integrates with all major smart home platforms including Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit and SmartThings.

“More and more customers are looking to smart thermostats as a way to conserve energy and save money on their bill,” said Tony Lozano, director of energy solutions Ameren Missouri. “We’re proud to partner with companies like Emerson that are committed to sustainability and reducing carbon emissions, and we’re excited to help our customers get an easy-to-install Sensi smart thermostat at such a reduced cost.”

The Sensi thermostat giveaway is just one component of Ameren Missouri’s residential energy efficiency program. Customers also have the power to save on heat pump water heaters, HVAC systems and other products that use less energy. Find more ways to save at AmerenMissouriSavings.com.

To request a Sensi smart thermostat, visit AmerenMissouri.com/Sensi. To learn more about Emerson’s Sensi smart thermostats, visit Sensi.Emerson.com or connect with Sensi thermostat on Facebook or Twitter.

About Emerson

Emerson (NYSE: EMR), headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), is a global technology and software company providing innovative solutions for customers in industrial, commercial and residential markets. Our Automation Solutions business helps process, hybrid and discrete manufacturers maximize production, protect personnel and the environment while optimizing their energy and operating costs. Our Commercial & Residential Solutions business helps ensure human comfort and health, protect food quality and safety, advance energy efficiency and create sustainable infrastructure. For more information visit Emerson.com.

About Ameren Missouri

Ameren Missouri has been providing electric and gas service for more than 100 years, and the company’s electric rates are among the lowest in the nation. Ameren Missouri’s mission is to power the quality of life for its 1.2 million electric and 132,000 natural gas customers in central and eastern Missouri. The company’s service area covers 64 counties and more than 500 communities, including the greater St. Louis area. For more information, visit Ameren.com/Missouri or follow us on Twitter at @AmerenMissouri or Facebook.com/AmerenMissouri.

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F.T.C. Sues to Block Meta’s Virtual Reality Deal as It Confronts Big Tech

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday filed for an injunction to block Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, from buying a virtual reality company called Within, potentially limiting the company’s push into the so-called metaverse and signaling a shift in how the agency is approaching tech deals.

The antitrust lawsuit is the first under Lina Khan, the commission’s chair and a leading progressive critic of corporate concentration, against one of the tech giants. Ms. Khan has argued that regulators must stop competition and consumer protection violations when it comes to the bleeding edge of technology, including virtual and augmented reality, and not just in areas where the companies have already become behemoths.

The F.T.C.’s request for an injunction puts Ms. Khan on a collision course with Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, who is also named as a defendant in the request. He has poured billions of dollars into building products for virtual and augmented reality, betting that the immersive world of the metaverse is the next technology frontier. The lawsuit could crimp those ambitions.

in its lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. “Instead, it chose to buy” a top company in what the government called a “vitally important” category.

attack on innovation and that the agency was “sending a chilling message to anyone who wishes to innovate in V.R.”

Meta had said it would acquire Within, which produces the highly popular fitness app called Supernatural, last year for an undisclosed sum. The company has promoted its virtual reality headsets for fitness and health purposes.

The F.T.C.’s lawsuit is highly unusual and pushes the boundaries of antitrust law. Regulators mostly focus on deals between large companies in large markets, rather than their acquisitions of small start-ups in nascent tech areas. Courts have also been skeptical applying antitrust law to block mergers based on the hypothetical that the two companies involved would later become competitors if the deal was blocked.

Instagram, the photo-sharing app that has since grown to more than one billion regular users. Instagram has helped Meta dominate the market on social photo sharing, though other start-ups have sprung up since.

lawsuit against Facebook that argued the company shut down nascent competition through acquisitions. The Justice Department has also sued Google over whether the company abused a monopoly over online search.

More cases could be coming. The F.T.C. is investigating whether Amazon has violated antitrust laws, and the Justice Department has inquiries into Google’s dominance over advertising technology and into Apple’s App Store policies.

For Mr. Zuckerberg, the F.T.C. lawsuit is a setback. He has been pushing Meta away from its roots in social networking as its apps, like Facebook and Instagram, face more competition amid stumbles in privacy and content moderation. Instead, he has bet on the metaverse.

Mr. Zuckerberg has reassigned employees and put a top lieutenant in charge of metaverse efforts. He has also authorized executives to pursue some of the most popular games in the V.R. space. In 2019, Facebook purchased Beat Games, makers of the hit title Beat Saber, one of the top V.R. games on the Oculus platform. He has also authorized the purchase of roughly half a dozen other virtual reality or gaming studios over the past three years.

The F.T.C. filed suit on Wednesday hours before Meta reported its first decline in quarterly revenue since it went public in 2012. The company has recently trimmed employee perks and reined in spending amid uncertain economic conditions. John Newman, the deputy director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Competition, said the agency acted on the Within deal because Meta was “trying to buy its way to the top.” The company already owned a best-selling virtual reality fitness app, he said, but then chose to acquire Within’s Supernatural app “to buy market position.” He said the deal was “an illegal acquisition, and we will pursue all appropriate relief.”

The F.T.C.’s vote to authorize the filing was split 3 to 2. Christine Wilson, a Republican commissioner at the agency, said she was one of the two votes against the lawsuit. She declined to comment on her reasoning.

The F.T.C. said in its request that asking for an injunction was sometimes a prelude to filing a complaint against a merger, which could embroil Meta and the agency in a lengthy trial and appeals process. A F.T.C. spokeswoman said the agency had not filed such a complaint and declined to comment further on the agency’s strategy.

Ms. Khan, 33, who was appointed by President Biden last year to acclaim from the left, has tried to make good on expansive promises to rein in corporate power. She became prominent after she wrote an article in law school in 2017 criticizing Amazon. As F.T.C. chair, she has called for regulators to vigorously enforce antitrust laws and has said she may craft sweeping online privacy rules that would implicate Silicon Valley companies.

The lawsuit drew praise from Ms. Khan’s allies. Sandeep Vaheesan, the legal director of the Open Markets Institute, a liberal think tank, said in a statement that the lawsuit was a “step toward making building, not buying, the norm for Facebook.”

But tech industry allies assailed Ms. Khan’s actions. Adam Kovacevich, the chief executive of Chamber of Progress, an industry group funded partly by Meta, said that with the new lawsuit, “the agency is more focused on getting headlines than results.” He said Meta “isn’t any closer than pickleball or synchronized swimming are to locking up the fitness market.”

Meta said in a blog post that the F.T.C. would fail to prove that the Within deal would “substantially lessen competition,” which is the bar that is typically set to block a deal under federal antitrust law.

In its lawsuit, the F.T.C. said that if Meta bought Within’s Supernatural, it would no longer have an incentive to improve Beat Saber, the virtual reality fitness game it already owns. But Nikhil Shanbhag, an associate general counsel for Meta, said in the blog post that the games weren’t competitors.

“Beat Saber is a game people play to have fun and it has many competitors,” he said. “Supernatural couldn’t be more different.”

Seamus Hughes contributed research.

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EXCLUSIVE EU found evidence employee phones compromised with spyware -letter

July 27 (Reuters) – The European Union found evidence that smartphones used by some of its staff were compromised by an Israeli company’s spy software, the bloc’s top justice official said in a letter seen by Reuters.

In a July 25 letter sent to European lawmaker Sophie in ‘t Veld, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said iPhone maker Apple had told him in 2021 that his iPhone had possibly been hacked using Pegasus, a tool developed and sold to government clients by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group.

The warning from Apple triggered the inspection of Reynders’ personal and professional devices as well as other phones used by European Commission employees, the letter said.

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Though the investigation did not find conclusive proof that Reynders’ or EU staff phones were hacked, investigators discovered “indicators of compromise” – a term used by security researchers to describe that evidence exists showing a hack occurred.

Reynders’ letter did not provide further detail and he said “it is impossible to attribute these indicators to a specific perpetrator with full certainty.” It added that the investigation was still active.

Messages left with Reynders, the European Commission, and Reynders’ spokesman David Marechal were not immediately returned.

An NSO spokeswoman said the firm would willingly cooperate with an EU investigation.

“Our assistance is even more crucial, as there is no concrete proof so far that a breach occurred,” the spokeswoman said in a statement to Reuters. “Any illegal use by a customer targeting activists, journalists, etc., is considered a serious misuse.”

NSO Group is being sued by Apple Inc (AAPL.O) for violating its user terms and services agreement.

LAWMAKERS’ QUESTIONS

Reuters first reported in April that the European Union was investigating whether phones used by Reynders and other senior European officials had been hacked using software designed in Israel. Reynders and the European Commission declined to comment on the report at the time.

Reynders’ acknowledgement in the letter of hacking activity was made in response to inquiries from European lawmakers, who earlier this year formed a committee to investigate the use of surveillance software in Europe.

Last week the committee announced that its investigation found 14 EU member states had purchased NSO technology in the past.

Reynders’ letter – which was shared with Reuters by in ‘t Veld, the committee’s rapporteur – said officials in Hungary, Poland and Spain had been or were in the process of being questioned about their use of Pegasus.

In ‘t Veld said it was imperative to find out who targeted the EU Commission, suggesting it would be especially scandalous if it were found that an EU member state was responsible.

The European Commission also raised the issue with Israeli authorities, asking them to take steps to “prevent the misuse of their products in the EU,” the letter said.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple’s alerts, sent late last year, told targeted users that a hacking tool, dubbed ForcedEntry, may have been used against their devices to download spyware. Apple said in a lawsuit that ForcedEntry had been the work of NSO Group. Reuters also previously reported that another, smaller Israeli firm named QuaDream had developed a nearly identical tool.

In November, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden gave NSO Group a designation that makes it harder for U.S. companies to do business with them, after determining that its phone-hacking technology had been used by foreign governments to “maliciously target” political dissidents around the world.

NSO, which has kept its client list confidential, has said that it sells its products only to “vetted and legitimate” government clients.

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Reporting by Raphael Satter and Christopher Bing in Washington; editing by Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How Mark Zuckerberg Is Leading Meta Into Its Next Phase

SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of the company formerly known as Facebook, called his top lieutenants for the social network to a last-minute meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. On the agenda: a “work-athon” to discuss the road map for improving the main Facebook app, including a revamp that would change how users browse the service.

For weeks beforehand, Mr. Zuckerberg had sent his executives messages about the overhaul, pressing them to increase the velocity and execution of their work, people with knowledge of the matter said. Some executives — who had to read a 122-page slide deck about the changes — were beginning to sweat at the unusual level of intensity, they said.

Facebook’s leaders flew in from around the world for the summit, the people said, and Mr. Zuckerberg and the group pored over each slide. Within days, the team unveiled an update to the Facebook app to better compete with a top rival, TikTok.

trimmed perks, reshuffled his leadership team and made it clear he would cut low-performing employees. Those who are not on board are welcome to leave, he has said. Managers have sent out memos to convey the seriousness of the approach — one, which was shared with The New York Times, had the title “Operating With Increased Intensity.”

the so-called metaverse. Across Silicon Valley, he and other executives who built what many refer to as Web 2.0 — a more social, app-focused version of the internet — are rethinking and upending their original vision after their platforms were plagued by privacy stumbles, toxic content and misinformation.

The moment is reminiscent of other bet-the-company gambles, such as when Netflix killed off its DVD-mailing business last decade to focus on streaming. But Mr. Zuckerberg is making these moves as Meta’s back is against the wall. The company is staring into the barrel of a global recession. Competitors like TikTok, YouTube and Apple are bearing down.

And success is far from guaranteed. In recent months, Meta’s profits have fallen and revenue has slowed as the company has spent lavishly on the metaverse and as the economic slowdown has hurt its advertising business. Its stock has plunged.

“When Mark gets super focused on something, it becomes all hands on deck within the company,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook policy director and the founder of Anchor Change, a consulting firm that works on tech and democracy issues. “Teams will quickly drop other work to pivot to the issue at hand, and the pressure is intense to move fast to show progress.”

Andrew Bosworth, who is known as Boz, to chief technology officer, leading hardware efforts for the metaverse. He promoted other loyalists, too, including Javier Olivan, the new chief operating officer; Nick Clegg, who became president of global affairs; and Guy Rosen, who took on a new role of chief information security officer.

In June, Sheryl Sandberg, who was Mr. Zuckerberg’s No. 2 for 14 years, said she would step down this fall. While she spent more than a decade building Facebook’s advertising systems, she was less interested in doing the same for the metaverse, people familiar with her plans have said.

Mr. Zuckerberg has moved thousands of workers into different teams for the metaverse, training their focus on aspirational projects like hardware glasses, wearables and a new operating system for those devices.

“It’s an existential bet on where people over the next decade will connect, express and identify with one another,” said Matthew Ball, a longtime tech executive and the author of a book on the metaverse. “If you have the cash, the engineers, the users and the conviction to take a swing at that, then you should.”

But the efforts are far from cheap. Facebook’s Reality Labs division, which is building augmented and virtual reality products, has dragged down the company’s balance sheet; the hardware unit lost nearly $3 billion in the first quarter alone.

privacy changes from Apple that have hampered its ability to measure the effectiveness of ads on iPhones. TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, has stolen young audiences from Meta’s core apps like Instagram and Facebook. These challenges are coinciding with a brutal macroeconomic environment, which has pushed Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to freeze or slow hiring.

a memo last month, Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, said the economic environment called for “leaner, meaner, better executing teams.”

In an employee meeting around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg said he knew that not everyone would be on board for the changes. That was fine, he told employees.

“I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is OK with me,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.”

Another memo circulated internally among workers this month was titled “Operating With Increased Intensity.” In the memo, a Meta vice president said managers should begin to “think about every person on their team and the value they are adding.”

“If a direct report is coasting or a low performer, they are not who we need; they are failing this company,” the memo said. “As a manager, you cannot allow someone to be net neutral or negative for Meta.”

investment priorities” for the company in the second half of this year.

other prototypes. Bloomberg reported earlier on the smart watch.

posted an update to his Facebook profile, noting some coming changes in the app. Facebook would start pushing people into a more video-heavy feed with more suggested content, emulating how TikTok operates.

Meta has been investing heavily in video and discovery, aiming to beef up its artificial intelligence and to improve “discovery algorithms” that suggest engaging content to users without them having to work to find it.

In the past, Facebook has tested major product updates with a few English-speaking audiences to see how they perform before rolling them out more widely. But, this time, the 2.93 billion people around the world who use the social networking app will receive the update simultaneously.

It is a sign, some Meta employees said, of just how much Mr. Zuckerberg means business.

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Why Big Tech Is Making a Big Play for Live Sports

LOS ANGELES — More than a decade after Apple disrupted the music industry and Amazon upended retail, the tech heavyweights have set their sights on a new arena ripe for change: live sports.

Emboldened by their deep pockets and eager to boost viewership of their streaming-subscription services, Apple and Amazon have thrust themselves into negotiations for media rights held by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Formula One racing and college conferences.

They are competing to replace DirecTV for the rights to N.F.L. Sunday Ticket, a package the league wants to sell for more than $2.5 billion annually, about $1 billion more than it currently costs, according to five people familiar with the process. Eager not to miss out, Google has also offered a bid from YouTube for the rights beginning in 2023, two people familiar with the offer said.

reported by the SportsBusiness Journal.

Fans will still be able to access all the games on Sunday, regardless of who wins the rights, but they will probably pay a premium to add the service to their Apple, Amazon, ESPN+ or YouTube service, some of the dozen people said. It is not yet clear if that premium would be more or less than the $294 that DirecTV charges for a year, they added.

Apple and Amazon are trying to position themselves for a future without cable. Since 2015, traditional pay television has lost a quarter of its subscribers — about 25 million homes — as people traded cable packages for apps like Netflix and Hulu, according to MoffettNathanson, an investment firm that tracks the industry.

But the price of live sports rights is only projected to increase. The biggest media companies, including Disney, Comcast, Paramount and Fox, are expected to spend a combined $24.2 billion for rights in 2024, according to data from MoffettNathanson, nearly double what they spent a decade earlier.

The fragmenting of a decades-old distribution model has created an opportunity for Apple and Amazon. The companies want to expand deeper into media by selling subscriptions to Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime. Besides containing their own exclusive shows and sports, those services double as portals selling additional streaming offerings like Starz and HBO Max, which pay Apple and Amazon 15 percent or more of each subscription sold.

Amazon generates more than $3 billion annually from third-party subscription sales, according to estimates by the investment bank BMO Capital Markets. To make the business model work, Apple and Amazon must attract more viewers, and sports are the most powerful draw in media. The companies may be willing to lose money on Sunday Ticket to expose new customers to other parts of their business, the same calculation that DirecTV historically made.

SportsBusiness Journal.

For all their disruptive potential, though, Apple and Amazon have yet to win a marquee rights package in the United States. That is reminiscent of 20 years ago, when sports leagues feared they would lose viewers by shifting games from network television to cable. But the change gradually became standard.

Traditional television companies are trying to stave off Apple and Amazon by starting their own streaming-subscription services. Last year Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, shuttered NBC Sports Network to bolster its USA channel and to encourage people to pay for Peacock, where it exclusively aired some English Premier League soccer games. Similarly, ESPN struck a deal with the National Hockey League to televise some games on its ESPN+ service, and CBS has shown marquee soccer games on Paramount+.

But those services have a fraction of the more than 100 million cable subscribers the media companies once reached. As a result, the bulk of sports programming goes on traditional pay-TV channels where they can guarantee leagues and advertisers larger audiences.

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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