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Study: Social Media Sites Can Predict Behavior—Even If You Don’t Have an Account

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You can run but you can’t hide from social media.

A new study likens privacy on social networks to second-hand smoke: It’s controlled by the people around you.

In a paper published by the journal Nature Human Behavior, researchers from the University of Vermont and University of Adelaide highlight the unsettling fact that when it comes to the Internet, your personal business is anything but.

“We show that 95 percent of the potential predictive accuracy for an individual is achievable using their social ties only, without requiring that individual’s data,” the study said.

Using more than 30 million public tweets from nearly 14,000 users, researchers found they could accurately predict someone’s future posts based on only eight or nine of their digital friends’ feeds.

Perhaps more concerning, though, is the ease with which the team can make the same predictions for folks who have left a social media platform—or never even joined in the first place.

As long as your contacts are on a social network—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.—it is possible to use their data to calculate 95 percent “potential predictive accuracy” of how you would behave on the service.

While most people signing up for a social network account understand the implicit transfer of personal information, they’re often unaware of the impact on their mates’ data.

“Our results have distinct privacy implications,” the study warned. “Information is so strongly embedded in a social network that, in principle, one can profile an individual from their available social ties even when the individual forgoes the platform completely.”

In theory, a company, government, or other actor could use this method to accurately profile someone—political ideology, favorite products, religious commitments—from their family, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances.

“There’s no place to hide in a social network,” study co-author Lewis Mitchell, a lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a statement.

The good news is there’s a mathematical upper limit on how much predictive information a social network can hold. The bad news: It makes little difference if the person being profiled actually uses that network.

“You alone don’t control your privacy on social media platforms,” UVM professor Jim Bagrow said. “Your friends have a say, too.”

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Pick: Shudder Is the Horror Streaming Service Fans Were Waiting For

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Horror television has been something of a mystery over the last couple decades. The first network I can remember getting excited about was The Horror Channel, a cable station that promised 24/7 films, shows, and original content. Sadly, it didn’t live up to its promises, and The Horror Channel turned into something nobody really wanted and it eventually went belly-up before it truly got off the ground.

The next chapter in the history of 24-hour horror channels belonged to Fearnet, which was launched as a video on demand service by Comcast in 2006. It had the same promises as The Horror Channel, but now the internet was more prevalent than ever, and it would be factored into its offerings. In 2014, Comcast acquired Lionsgate and Sony Entertainment, and moved Fearnet’s programming into the Sci-Fi Channel (which at the time was being rebranded as SyFy) and Chiller, Comcast’s premium cable channel. This upset fans who liked Fearnet’s online setup where viewers could join in chats with other horror fans and discuss their favorite films while watching their favorite programming.

Chiller sadly became a watered-down horror channel filled with ads and censor edits. (Because that’s what horror fans are looking for — censored content, right?) It soon became difficult for the company to ignore subscriber numbers dropping, when users decided Netflix and (illegally) downloading content were their best alternatives. So this was when physical media reigned: Companies like Criterion and Shout Factory began offering exclusive content for their films, such as behind-the-scenes features, documentaries, and more — all in 1080p on these upgraded DVDs called Blu-rays.

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The Birth of Shudder

Luckily in 2015, something was growing in the dark. Something so sinister (but accessible!) that horror fans would be silly not to indulge in. The very next year, invites started to go out for a new online streaming service from AMC for our favorite genre. It was called Shudder.

Shudder beat out its competitor Screambox by offering 500 films at launch and quality content that only the streaming service could provide. Rob Zombie’s 31 premiered on the platform two weeks before its wide release. Shudder also offered fans a chance to see the full release of The Devils, Ken Russell’s 1971 horror classic.

Since then, Shudder has been working closely with acclaimed filmmakers like Don Coscarelli and Joe Lynch, and since 2018, it has continued to release exclusive and original films and series.

Shudder Originals and Exclusives

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Just last year the horror streaming service reached out to cult film historian and host Joe Bob Briggs to bring back his popular 90s horror commentary series Monster Vision, which aired on TNT from 1991 to 2000. Everything was recreated to the nines, minus the name. The special event was like cozying up on your parents basement couch again and watching Phantasm for the first time. Fans were ecstatic about the news and when the first episode aired, fans broke the servers. This was a good problem. Shudder would then bring Joe Bob back for special holiday commentary, which would then spawn the first season of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.

These exclusive movie events on top of Joe Bob’s return boosted the popularity of streaming service among horror fans. Soon after, announcements of an original Creepshow series from makeup effects artist and close AMC development director Greg Nicotaro began circulating. He then officially announced the project, teasing out a first look of the animated Creepshow host in June. The new series is set to premiere on September 26. This move shows Shudder was taking the right steps to bring in even more horror fans with quality content as well as classic content.

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Best Movies to Stream on Shudder

This past week I have been working on a project and ended up binge watching all of the Nightmare on Elm Street films that were recently added. I’ve owned the Blu-ray collection for years, but because Freddy was at my fingertips as the evenings drew near, I could not resist.

The streaming service is also currently releasing Joe Hill’s AMC adaptation of N0S4A2. Sadly, this is not “bingeable” since it is being released episode by episode weekly — but hell if it isn’t bringing me back each and every week!

The film selection alone will keep you watching for hours on end. Here are just a few suggestions to help send a tingle down your spine this fall.

Documentaries:
Never Sleep Again
Eli Roth’s History of Horror
Horror Noire
Why Horror?

Films That Will Scare You:
Terrified
The Exorcist Three
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Hell House LLC

Classics:
Halloween III
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Chopping Mall
Phantom of the Paradise

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Why You Should Subscribe to Shudder

It has taken a lot to get here. We went through broken promises to overly priced (and censored) cable networks. But horror finally has a place to rest its wonderfully terrifying head and we, the fans, could not be more pleased.

When you sign up directly on Shudder’s website for a new membership, you can stream Shudder unlimited for $5.99 per month, or save with a yearly membership for $56.99 (only $4.75 a month).

You can start your free 7-day trial of Shudder here.

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LGBTQ+ Video Creators Sue YouTube, Google

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A group of LGBTQ+ video creators are suing YouTube and parent company Google for discrimination.

Eight plaintiffs are alleging their content was suppressed, their ability to advertise was restricted, and their subscribers were culled, according to The Washington Post.

The suit, filed this week in the Northern California District Court, also asserts that YouTube enforces it policies unevenly, giving a pass to channels with large audiences—even if their content is prejudiced.

“Our LGBTQ+ content is being demonetized, restricted, and not sent out to viewers, which has highly affected our ability to reach the community that we strongly want to help,” singing duo and lesbian couple Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers said in a video explaining why they’re suing Google/YouTube.

“YouTube is supposed to be a safe space for us. I don’t feel safe at all,” transgender cat lover Chase Ross added.

“Things need to change. The algorithm needs to change. We need to stand together, because we’re more powerful in numbers,” he said. “And honestly, standing here, watching our videos get demonetized, it’s disheartening; it hurts. And it needs to end right now.”

The class action lawsuit maintains that YouTube’s software algorithms, as well as its human reviewers, single out and remove content featuring words like “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual.”

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As a result, those video creators are losing followers and advertising revenue.

Kam and Chambers, whose BriaAndChrissy channel boasts more than 850,000 subscribers, claim that YouTube’s enforcement reduced their monthly earnings from $3,500 to about $500.

Brett Somers’ channel Watts the Safeword—”kink-friendly” sex education—lost more than $6,000 in average monthly sales as a result of restrictions, he said.

YouTube, meanwhile, denies the allegations (two years after it was caught censoring LGBTQ+ users).

“Our policies have no notion of sexual orientation or gender identity and our systems do not restrict or demonetize videos based on these factors or the inclusion of terms like ‘gay’ or ‘transgender,’” company spokesman Alex Joseph said in a statement published by FFWD.

“In addition,” he continued, “we have strong policies prohibiting hate speech, and we quickly remove content that violates our policies and terminate accounts that do so repeatedly.”

The Google-owned video streaming site—the world’s largest, with nearly 2 billion monthly views—wields enormous power over creators. It can promote or bury content as it sees fit, and there’s very little anyone can do about it.

“By controlling an estimated 95 percent of the public video communications that occur in the world, Google and YouTube wield unparalleled power and unfettered discretion to apply viewpoint-based content policies in a way that permits them to pick winners and losers,” Peter Obstler, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told WaPo.

“We are not going to stand by and let our community get dismissed, belittled, or discriminated against,” Somers said in the video, encouraging supporters to spread the word and stand up against YouTube.

Neither Google nor YouTube immediately responded to Geek’s request for comment.

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Robot Dog Astro Can Sit, Lie Down, and Save Lives

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Who’s a good boy? Astro, the four-legged seeing and hearing intelligent robodog.

Using deep learning and artificial intelligence, scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Machine Perception and Cognitive Robotics (MPCR) Laboratory are bringing Astro to life.

A robotic tail wagger is not exactly new: Boston Dynamics has been honing its all-electric Spot lineup for years.

But Astro has a head start—literally.

FAU’s quadruped features a 3D-printed noggin (designed to resemble a Doberman pinscher) that contains a computerized brain.

He doesn’t just look like a dog, though. He learns like one, too: Astro is being trained via deep neural network to learn from experience and perform real-life tasks.

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Built-in sensors, radar imaging, cameras, and a directional microphone help ensure that, just like a flesh-and-blood pooch, he can respond to commands like “sit,” “stand,” and “lie down.”

Eventually, researchers hope Astro will be able to understand hand signals, detect different colors, comprehend various languages, coordinate with drones, distinguish human faces, and recognize other dogs.

“Astro is inspired by the human brain and he has come to life through machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is proving to be an invaluable resource in helping to solve some of the world’s most complex problems,” Ata Sarajedini, dean of FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, said in a statement.

Designed to engage and react to his surroundings in real time, the intelligent machine will be able to navigate rough terrains and respond to dangerous situations.

As an information scout, Astro can assist police, the military, and security personnel in sniffing out guns and explosives. He is also capable of rapidly searching faces in a database, smelling the air for foreign substances, and hearing distress calls well outside a human’s audible range.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, the heartwarming hound may be programmed to work as a service dog for the visually impaired or provide medical diagnostic monitoring.

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