A college freshman who is publicly tracking the whereabouts of Elon Musk’s private jet has a request that would make him stop the effort.
Jack Sweeney, a 19-year-old student at the University of Central Florida, has made a hobby of tracking private jets owned by billionaire entrepreneurs and even some celebrities.
Using public data from aircraft transponders that record longitude, latitude and altitude, Mr. Sweeney in 2020 created an algorithm that calculates the location of a Gulfstream G650ER that he says belongs to Mr. Musk , the CEO of Tesla. Inc.
He shares the information publicly on Twitter, just like he does for planes owned by Amazon.com Inc.
founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft Corp.
founder Bill Gates, among others.
Mr Sweeney’s Twitter account, @ElonJet, has nearly 350,000 followers. He sells T-shirts, makes money from online advertisements and has drawn both positive and negative attention to the account, including from Mr Musk himself, who wants it is closed, Mr Sweeney said.
Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
“I created something,” Mr Sweeney said. “It’s something valuable and if it blows up that much, it means people are interested.”
Mr Sweeney said Mr Musk asked him to close the Twitter account at the end of November. Mr. Sweeney said he refused. Mr. Sweeney said Mr. Musk then offered him $5,000 to close the account, according to screenshots of the conversation Mr. Sweeney shared with the Wall Street Journal, which could not verify from independently their authenticity.
Their exchange continued, Mr. Sweeney said, with Mr. Sweeney asking for $50,000 and later an internship. Mr Musk blocked him on social media on January 23, the freshman said.
“If I had a real Tesla, I would tear it down,” he said in an interview on Friday.
The starting price for a Model 3 – without incentives – is around $44,990, according to Tesla’s website.
Another car entrepreneur has tried to persuade Mr Sweeney with a similar offer in recent days.
Scott Painter, chief executive of Autonomy, a subscription service that allows customers to lease the Model 3 for around $550 a month, offered to give Mr Sweeney a free car for three years if he scrapped the twitter account. Autonomy is not affiliated with Tesla.
“He gets a lot of attention and it’s not necessarily the most attention,” Mr. Painter said in an interview. “He’s in a sticky situation, and we’ve come up with an elegant solution for him that we think works for him, and it works for us.”
But Mr Sweeney balked at the offer, which included a written contract from Autonomy. “I don’t give up something I love for something I completely don’t want,” he said. “I want my own car. I don’t want to have to give it back in three years.
Mr Sweeney has received criticism from online critics who say his Twitter bots pose a safety risk to Mr Musk and others he follows.
Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the Department of Transportation, said she saw little cause for concern. The transponder reporting Mr. Sweeney tapping for his Twitter bots is public information, said Ms. Schiavo, an aviation lawyer and former pilot.
“In most cases, by law, these transponders must be turned on,” she said.
She noted that federal and local authorities have well-established aviation and ground security protocols at airports.
The Federal Aviation Administration maintains a database of all registered aircraft tail numbers, as well as the craft’s owner and its pilots, all of which are open to the public, she said.
Several websites and online programs track flights around the world, Ms Schiavo added, so Mr Sweeney’s Twitter bots are not the only place to access this data.
“Reading this situation, this young man found something very smart and he put it out there,” Ms Schiavo said. “If Elon Musk wants to remain anonymous for $5,000 and the kid wants a Tesla, that sounds like an offer and a counter-offer.”
Write to Ginger Adams Otis at [email protected]
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