The idea behind Ad Hawk started at a Philadelphia’s Hacks/Hackers meetup, and the project began at the Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon in December 2011. After a few months of follow-up work, the technology eventually found a home at the Sunlight Foundation for further development and publication. It is powered by Echoprint, an open source music fingerprint and resolving framework, created and made available by the good folks at The Echo Nest.
When you press the "Identify this ad" button, Ad Hawk starts listening to the audio coming into your mobile phone. The app creates a short digital fingerprint to compare against the database of hundreds of political ads we collect. If the audio fingerprint finds a match, we send you the information collected in our database about the sponsor of the ad and other details such as money received or spent, where the ad is on the air, media reports on the political group or ad and places to find more information.
Sunlight identifies new ads by monitoring media reports and the YouTube channels of political groups and campaigns. We research and pair these new ads with Federal Communications Commission data on ad spending, Federal Election Commission data on political contributions, press releases about ad buys and relevant news articles. With user permission, we collect anonymized location data to better map where ads are airing around the country.
Ad Hawk relies on multiple data sources to provide you information on the ads you see. Much of the data originally comes from the federal government and would be greatly improved with a centralized, searchable and sortable database of political ads. Here is how we collect the data: