Shazam meets political Ads - New PAC APP from MIT Grads

written by: Richard Kastelein

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A new project from former students of Social TV Maven Marie-Jose Montpetit at MIT's Media Lab has been creating quite some attention in the mainstream media over it's unique use of 'Social TV' technology in the political realm. Called the Super Pac App - the impartial product, created by Jennifer Hollett and Dan Siegel, gives the names behind those 'dirty' political ads that are flooding American TV during this election season.

In a nutshell, the Super Pace App uses audio fingerprinting technology to give users immediate information on the political advertisement they are watching on TV. The app snips a short snippet of audio then matches it against against a database housing all of the presidential political ads, maintained and updated by the founders.

In other words you can find out who created the ad and how much money is behind it - pulling open the curtains in real time on second screen mobile devices. 

Photo credit: Justin Adelson, MIT Sloan

The app  presents information revealing the “who” and “what” behind the ad (Who is this organization? What is their affiliation? Are they a Super PAC or part of the official campaign?) and discloses how much money is involved in the ad and how much the organization has spent so far in the campaign. The user is then given the opportunity to rate the ad (love, fair, fishy, fail) and view other people’s ratings before continuing on to have the ad fact checked.

Then the app breaks down the claims asserted in the ad and uses objective, third-party sources to give the user a sense of how much truth and valuable information the ad makes claims about.

The app is free of advertising and is funded in full by a grant from the Knight Foundation.


Siegel spoke with CNN recently about how the app works and how he hopes it will change the way voters interact with television ads.

The fact-checking process is especially important this year, said Siegel, because Super PACs for the first time can spend unlimited funds on presidential campaign ads. In recent weeks TV airwaves in battleground states have been full of ads making negative claims about both President Obama and his rival Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.

CNN: Tell me about the idea for this app. Where did the idea come from?

Siegel: I was at the business school at MIT and decided to take a class at the Media Lab. I came into it with this interest in politics and a fascination with how much money is going to be spent in this election. When you look into the numbers, it's very clear that the overwhelming percentage of the money raised goes into television ads. So it's like, well, what are those ads trying to tell us?

And Jenn (Jennifer Hollett), my co-founder, came into the class from the (Harvard) Kennedy School, and has a background in broadcast journalism. And so really from day one it was kind of a perfect fit.

Jenn threw out the idea: "What about an app that can -- and I have no idea if this is possible -- but what about an app that can actually tell you what you're watching on TV as you're watching it?" I said, "Yes! What you're talking about is audio fingerprinting technology. That is a great idea. Let's go with that."

For a while, we called it a class project. And we were working on it as a class project. And there was a moment where we were about to get on the phone with a major media outlet who just had actually heard about this class project ... and they wanted to talk to us about partnering. Before that call, Jenn and I looked at each other and said, "Hey, why don't we stop calling this a class project and call it an app. That is real. That we're building. And, like, see what happens."



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