As the presidential campaign heats up this fall, a dizzying array of ads will appear on TV. Now there is an app for that.
Former MIT Media Lab students developed Super PAC App, a free iPhone app that allows users to learn who paid for a TV ad and consult non-partisan fact-checkers for the validity of claims made in the ad.
The app was developed with a grant from the Knight Foundation and has no commercial purpose, according to its creators.
"The [presidential] campaigns are spending a lot of money and all of that money is going into television ads," Dan Siegel, one of the co-creators of the app, tells CNN. "Therefore, there's a need for users to be able to play through the noise a little bit."
The idea for the app came to Siegel while he was attending business school at MIT and his collaborator, Jennifer Hollett, was attending the Kennedy School at Harvard. The concept went from class project to an aptly timed app.
The project involves collecting all the political ads pushed out by the presidential campaigns, including those just intended for websites, which is no small task since new TV or video ads emerge almost daily. Users can tap into the political ad database by playing a 10-second audio sample from an ad they have seen on TV. The app will tell the user who sponsored the ad, whether it is an actual presidential campaign ad or an ad by a superPAC and something about the fundraising of the responsible group.
Users then get a chance to rate the ad and, afterwards, see how others rated the same ad.
The app also can transport users to third-party, non-partisan fact-checking sites such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact to see how they rate the veracity of claims made in the TV ad.
The app holds special promise for Millennials who rely heavily on their smartphones for information. Many don't own televisions, but can go to YouTube to collect an audio fingerprint to submit through Super PAC App.
It does take a little legwork on your smartphone to track down an ad, find out who is responsible and check out its factual basis. But the app reflects yet another escalation on the online battlefield that political campaigns have invaded.