In the run-up to Election Day, more than 670 super PACs have spent over $280 million to influence political advertising – and the numbers keep rising. So which super PAC finances certain ads? And which candidate does each super PAC lean towards? Well, there’s an app for that.
The Super PAC App, soon available for free in the iTunes store, will use audio fingerprinting technology employed by apps like Shazam andSoundHound to identify adverts. Users will be able to hold their iPhones up to an advert while it is playing, and the Super PAC App will draw on third-party data to tell the user which super PAC is running the ad. It will classify the super PAC’s political leaning, and identify the claims the ad is making. The app will then link the user to related articles that could help the user verify the advert’s claim. Users can share the information they find via email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter.
Born out of a class project at MIT’s Media Lab, the Super PAC App is the brain child of recent Harvard Kennedy School grad Jennifer Hollett and MIT Sloan grad Dan Siegel. The pair met and began working on the app in February, and are currently based out of the MIT Beehive Cooperative startup accelerator. The app is set to go live in time for the Republican National Convention at the end of August.
“I have an eternal interest in politics and business and was reading a lot about super PACs,” explained Siegel. “I remember reading an estimate that there would be $11 billion spent in this election – I remember thinking where is all this money going to? That’s the size of a small stimulus package.”
Since receiving funding from the Knight foundation last month, the startup’s programmer, Bob Caslin, has been hard at work building the app.
“Instead of just sitting there and letting the ads come at you, you have the opportunity to interact with the content,” explained Hollett.
Much of the third-party data the app sources will come from OpenSecrets.org, a research group that tracks spending in U.S. politics, as well as the New York Times. The app will not just be limited to super pac ads, but will also generate information on non-profit and campaign ads.
Hollett and Siegel hope their app will be of most use to voters in the swing states, and the pair seek high download numbers in those regions. “If we can get 1% or 2% of people in swing states based on the 2010 voting numbers to download the app then we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of people,” explained Siegel.
According to data from app researcher Xyologic, there were 378 million iPhone app downloads in theU.S. during April alone – far more than any other nation in the world. China, the second country in line, downloaded around 246.4 million iPhone apps the same month.
So is the future’s political landscape full of apps?
“I’m hoping we’ll see a lot of digital revolution in this election,” said Hollett. “I think it’s part of how our culture is moving, and how we’re engaging with everything.”
As for what’s next for the Super Pac App, Hollett and Siegel are undecided. Once the app has served its purpose in the U.S., the duo may take the app and apply it to international elections. Alternatively, they say they could pivot to use the app as a transparency tool, linking users to information that verify the claims made by other commercials.