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Tech

Sunlight Foundation App ID's Political Ads

August 22, 2012

When that song you're hearing on the radio or in a bar is driving you crazy, because you just can't remember the name of the band, the mobile app Shazam can supply the missing information.

The Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group that focuses on government data transparency, is trying to bring the same functionality to political ads. Ad Hawk, pun intended, works much the same as Shazam. Cue up the app on an Android smartphone or Apple iPhone when a political ad is playing on TV or the radio, and Ad Hawk will give a listen and try to match the ad to its database of political spots. If there's a match, the app will offer info on the funding behind the ad, where it's airing, and links to any news articles about groups backing an ad.

One key difference -- political ads are typically just 30-seconds long, so Ad Hawk users will have to act a little faster than someone trying to remember, say, the name of the band that does "Point of No Return." And even among the political junkies of Washington, D.C., it's hard to imagine a bar bet that can be settled with information on whether an ad is sponsored by American Crossroads or Club For Growth Action.

The Sunlight Foundation is using open source technology from Echoprint to enable audio matching, but the back end work of uploading the soundtracks of political ads for recognition purposes is being done one at a time by project developers. As political ads go live on YouTube, they are added to the Ad Hawk database. The app launched with a database of just shy of 2,100 political spots, according to Sunlight's communications director Gabriela Schneider.

The app asks users for their location, in order to collect information about political ads for the Sunlight database, including how ads are edited and tailored for specific media markets.

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