- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2012

Not sure whether President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney are stretching the truth? There’s an app for that.

The newly-released “SuperPAC App” uses audio recognition technology to instantly recognize political ads and inform voters whether the ads they are watching on television or the Internet have met the standards of an independent journalism group behind the tool. Users also can rate the ads.

The SuperPAC App, funded by the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that uses technology to promote transparency and open government, is one of a growing number of apps tracking the political ads surrounding the election. The program is designed to recognize ads and provide the viewer contextual information — who sponsored the ad, how much they paid for it and where it’s running.

“It helps voters cut through all the noise,” said Dan Siegel, one of the founders of Glassy Media, the firm that built the app to combat the web of confusion spun by all the super PACs popping up. “It would be a nice outcome if it in any way prevented politicians from lying in the future. Perhaps, they’ll decide it’s going to be harder for them to hide where their money comes from or tell bold face lies.”

Glassy Media is a digital production company that was hatched in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.

The iPhone app — it’s not available on Android — debuted Aug. 22 as the top free news app in the Apple Store. It also cracked the top 100 for all free apps.

The creators of the SuperPAC App are considering expanding it to U.S. Senate and House elections, as well as elections in other countries, if it performs well in this presidential election.

“We’ve thought about applying this same concept, this same technology to other elections,” Mr. Siegel said.

Several other political apps are similar to the SuperPAC App. “Ad Hawk,” developed by the Sunlight Foundation, another nonprofit, nonpartisan open government group, has a similar app for the iPhone, and, unlike the SuperPAC App, it’s also available for Android phones and can work on radio ads, as well.

Nimblebot, another Web company founded by MIT students, built “Reactvid.com,” which marks different political ads as “true,” “false,” or “ambiguous.”

The politically tuned apps are similar to music-based apps like “Shazam” that tell users what songs they are listening to.

“This is information that, otherwise, might be too boring or time-consuming to find,” Mr. Siegel said. “We’re adding the bubble gum flavor to the medicine, we’re creating something that’s fun to use, that’s cool.”

These political apps are hoping to bring more transparency to the era of super PAC politics.

“Super PACs are new … and they’re overwhelming and confusing and often frustrating, and we wanted to do something to address that,” said Jennifer Hollett, co-founder at Glassy Media. “We hope that our app encourages people to tune in, instead of tune out.”

This is the first presidential campaign since the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision, which unleashed restrictions on super PACs.

The groups, and the amount cash they generate, have mushroomed since the 2010 ruling: The Federal Elections Commissionlists 699 on its website.

OpenSecrets.org, another nonpartisan group promoting more transparency in government says super PACs have raised nearly $350 million and spent more than $240 million on ads in this cycle.

Restore Our Future, a group that supports the Romney campaign, has raised more than $89 million, while Priorities USA Action, a group that supports the Obama campaign, has raised more than $25 million. Mr. Romney has the backing of four of the top five super PACs.

“I thought it was shocking there was so much money going into the campaigns, even in a bad economy,” Mr. Siegel said. “It’s basically the size of a small stimulus package, essentially going into television ads.”

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