Apps trace political ad spending - WSMV Channel 4

Apps trace political ad spending

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The Super PAC App, released by Glassy Media, listens to an ad attacking President Barack Obama. The app identifies the group behind the ad and links to fact checking sites. (Source: RNN) The Super PAC App, released by Glassy Media, listens to an ad attacking President Barack Obama. The app identifies the group behind the ad and links to fact checking sites. (Source: RNN)
The Sunlight Foundation's Ad Hawk app listens to an ad attacking GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Ad Hawk focuses on the group that paid for the advertisement and where their spending has gone so far. (Source: RNN) The Sunlight Foundation's Ad Hawk app listens to an ad attacking GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Ad Hawk focuses on the group that paid for the advertisement and where their spending has gone so far. (Source: RNN)

(RNN) - With all the political ads making rounds ahead of the presidential election, trying to separate fact from fiction can be enough to make anyone's head spin. It can leave you wondering where the millions of dollars in advertisements are coming from.

Well, there's an app for that.

Glassy Media and the Sunlight Foundation released free apps last week to identify groups behind the ever-present presidential ads, using technology popular for identifying songs through the Shazam app. When activated the apps listen to political ads playing on TV or a computer and create an "audio fingerprint" which is then checked against the app's ad database.

"These days, our smartphones are always within reach," said Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs with the Sunlight Foundation. "Instead of checking texts or identifying a song on the radio, you can now use them the moment you hear or see a political ad."

The Sunlight Foundation released Ad Hawk to the Apple App Store and Google Play. Turn on the app, click "Identify this ad" and within 30 seconds the app comes back with the name of the ad, the sponsor, background on the sponsor and financial information.

The information includes how the group - typically a Super PAC - has spent money on positive or negative ads, and which party those ads focused on.

New political spots are added to the Ad Hawk database constantly, but it sometimes lags behind. Of four ads tested, Ad Hawk identified three and give full information on two of them.

The programs are in response to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which opened the door for companies looking to spend unlimited money on political elections.

The ruling, "basically allows any individual or organization to contribute to a political message in unlimited degree, which is new and unprecedented," Co-Founder of Glassy Media Dan Siegel said in an interview with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

Glassy Media released Super PAC App to the Apple App Store. Unlike Ad Hawk, it focuses on deciphering whether claims in the ads have any basis in fact.

"When you hear Super PAC, it sounds like something that should be in a comic book," Glassy Media Co-Founder Jennifer Hollett said in an interview with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

"In many ways, that's accurate, because Super PAC represents millions and millions of dollars being poured into the 2012 U.S. presidential election for the first time because of court rulings in 2010."

Like Ad Hawk, the Super PAC App listens to a few seconds of a political ad and pops back with the sponsor, money the group raised and spent, a link to explore claims made in the ads and a voting system where users can rank an ad.

The app recognized advertisements slightly faster than Ad Hawk, but it doesn't identify the big-dollar backers in the Super PAC. It recognized all four advertisements presented to it.

According to The Washington Post, more than $381 million has been spent on advertising thus far in the race. Super PACs have spent $214 million, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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    Wednesday, August 29 2012 1:00 PM EDT2012-08-29 17:00:57 GMT
    Check out these ads from both ends of the political spectrum to get a feel for the Super PAC App and Ad Hawk. Obama for America: Come and Go Romney for President: Nothing's Free Priorities USA Action:
    Check out these ads from both ends of the political spectrum to get a feel for the Super PAC App and Ad Hawk.More >>
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