Elon Musk slipped into the DMs of the creator of the Twitter bot @ElonJet last month.
That was the start of a drawn-out conversation between Jack Sweeney, 19, a college freshman at the University of Central Florida, and Tesla CEO billionaire Musk.
Musk started the conversation by asking a small favor: Would Sweeney take down the bot that posted his private plane’s whereabouts? And, to sweeten the deal: What if he threw in $5,000?
@ElonJet tracks the whereabouts of Musk’s private jet. Sweeney, a flight tracking whiz who utilizes publicly available data that comes from the Federal Aviation Administration, has set up 15 other jet trackers for SpaceX planes, celebrity-toting jets, and aircraft from other big names like Jeff Bezos. @ElonJet was the most popular tracking bot in Sweeney’s collection, but it only had about 83,000 followers at the time this all started. Now it’s up to over 241,000.
In a phone call with Mashable last week, Sweeney went through his ongoing saga with Musk.
Sweeney countered Musk’s offer by asking for a more substantial $50,000. Or what about a Tesla Model 3? After all, he’s a college kid who invested a lot of time and effort into setting up the account. Musk, one of the richest people in the world, said he’d consider it, but didn’t follow up again.
Sweeney reached out again about two weeks ago with his last ask: an internship at one of Musk’s companies, like SpaceX or Tesla. Radio silence. Then he was blocked by the active Twitter user sometime over the weekend.
As the tech publication Protocol reported last week, Musk reached out to Sweeney in December even though @ElonJet has been posting take-off and landing info since June 2020.
Sweeney explained to Musk how he set up the account using FAA data, and even offered advice to Musk. He suggested a free information-blocking program offered through the FAA, which Musk (or likely someone on his team) set up. As the FAA website explained, “Limiting aircraft data from the FAA data systems will limit flight tracking information transmitted over the Internet.” However, Sweeney’s @ElonJet continued to function despite the more limited data.
Musk went a step further after Protocol’s initial report about the take-down drama was published last week, enabling a second data-blocking method that acts as another layer of privacy but still isn’t impenetrable. These blocks would deter the average person from tracking this particular plane. But Sweeney’s father is in the airline industry, as Protocol reported, and the college student knew where to find less-accessible databases. He figured out how to continue accessing the publicly available (but now much more buried) flight info that he could plug into the bot.
“He probably will be mad now that I know it’s completely working,” Sweeney said once the account tracked the flight path despite the new hiccup.
As to why Musk is suddenly concerned with the tracking bot and the perceived security risk, Sweeney is just as confused as we are. He said in the 1.5 years @ElonJet’s been in operation, neither Musk nor anyone from his companies have reached out.
“There were some people saying stop following this account,” Sweeney said of the Musk fans urging him to take down @ElonJet, but the bot is still going, with negotiations seemingly stalled for good now that all of Sweeney’s accounts are blocked. Sweeney said he would take it down if that internship — or electric car — materialized.
Musk’s plane most recently landed in Harlingen, Texas.