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Two New Mobile Apps Launch To ID Groups Behind Political TV Ads

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Wednesday, August 22 2012

Two new mobile apps, "Ad Hawk," and "Super PAC App" became available Wednesday, enabling U.S. voters with smartphones to instantly discover who's trying to influence their vote through television ads.

The new tools should be especially handy for voters in swing states, where both candidate campaigns and various kinds of groups operating independently of candidates are expected to spend billions on TV ads.

"Ad Hawk," available both on Apple iOS devices and Android, is from the Sunlight Foundation. After identifying the ad by listening to it for up to 30 seconds, the app pulls up the ad title, identifies the sponsor and provides background and historical information about the group behind the ad. The app also tells users how much money the group has received this election cycle, how much it has spent, and how much it has on hand. Users can share this information on Twitter.

"Super PAC App," from Jennifer Hollett and Dan Siegel, is a little more pared down, but works just as smoothly. Just as with "Ad Hawk," users are meant to hold the phone up to their televisions with the app open and tap an icon that enables the identification of the ad, which happens within a few seconds. A screen pops up with a playable version of the ad itself within the screen with its title, and a red bar appears underneath with the amount that the group has raised and spent. There are also links to "Politifact," fact checking articles vetting the claims made in the ads. Users can vote for the ad by tapping "Love," "Fair," "Fishy," or "Fail." The app also provides a running list of the latest television ads that have aired, as well as a database that users can comb through, where the ads are listed alphabetically by the name of the organization sponsoring them.

One initial glitch with the app on Wednesday: Though Super PAC app was able to pull up an ad from Americans for Prosperity after listening to it, no identification or financial information showed up. Hollett and Siegel said that that was a result from a glitch in the way the group reports its information to the Federal Election Commission, and that they're aware of the issue and fixing it.

Personal Democracy Media co-founders Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej are senior advisers to the Sunlight Foundation.