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Super PAC Shazam: 2 new apps tell you who is behind political ads

August 22, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • Sunlight Foundation releases Ad Hawk, a new app that sheds light on the organizations behind political ads.
Sunlight Foundation releases Ad Hawk, a new app that sheds light on the organizations… (Sunlight Foundation )

Thanks to apps like Shazam and SoundHound, our smartphones are able to tell us who is behind that song we were rocking out to at the gym, or that we fell in love with on the car radio. Now, thanks to two new apps, our smartphones can also tell us more information about the groups funding political ads on television and the radio.

On Wednesday the MIT media lab and the nonprofit, nonpartisan group the Sunlight Foundation both released apps that use audio fingerprinting technology to identify political ads and tell you information about the organization that paid for it.

Both apps work the same way: If you are watching television and a political ad pops up, all you have to do is open up the app, let it listen to some of the ad, and the app will tell you what organization made the ad, how much the ad cost, how much money the organization has spent in the campaign so far as well as other information if its available.

Both apps rely on data collected by the Federal Election Commission for their information, and both are constantly adding to their database of ads.

The MIT Super PAC app is currently only available for the iPhone. The Sunlight Foundation's app Ad Hawk is available for the iPhone and Android devices.

Liz Barolomeo, a spokeswoman for the Sunlight Foundation, said it was pure coincidence that both apps came out on the same day, but in a way, it makes sense: After all, this is the first presidential election year since the Citizens United ruling made it totally legal for super PACs to spend as much money as they like, and Americans are being bombarded with more political and "message" ads than ever before.

And if you are already feeling overwhelmed by the number of political ads you've seen on the television, know this: it is going to get worse. The presidential campaigns may already be going strong, but the congressional campaigns start to really amp up the ad spending after Labor Day.

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