“Are you able to take this down?” It poses a security threat.” Last November, Elon Musk used Twitter DM to start a conversation with 19-year-old Jack Sweeney. He was referring to @ElonJet, a Twitter account that records the travels of his private plane throughout the world. Sweeney didn’t miss any sleep despite the late-night communication, which arrived at 12:13 a.m. his time. “Yes I can but it’ll cost you a Model 3 only joking unless?” he replied nearly seven hours later.
Sweeney has set up 15 flight-tracking accounts, each of which is controlled by bots he’s designed to read data and tweet whenever a specific plane takes off or lands. Each one follows a high-profile figure, practically all of them are in the tech industry, such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. With roughly 83,000 followers, Musk’s tracker is the most popular. Musk appears to have been alarmed by the account’s popularity. In their DM exchange, he told Sweeney, “I don’t relish the notion of being shot by a nutcase.”
For a few more messages, the dialogue proceeded. Musk inquired about Sweeney’s earnings from the Twitter accounts, and Sweeney stated that he earned no more than $20 each month. Then Elon Musk offered his own offer: $5,000 to deactivate the account and assist the billionaire avoid being tracked by “crazy people.” Musk was directed by Sweeney to add another 0. “Would it be possible to increase that to $50,000?” It would be a big help in college and would even allow me to buy a car, probably a Model 3.”
Took off from Hawthorne, Elon got PIA blocking program but already found the aircraft. pic.twitter.com/nOxNUxy5y5
— Elon Musk’s Jet (@ElonJet) January 26, 2022
Musk stated that he would consider it. But he hasn’t paid Sweeney anything yet, and the account is still open. Sweeney claims he doesn’t mind being ghosted. He claims that @ElonJet and the other accounts have helped him a lot: He’s grown his social media following, learned to code, and even landed a part-time work as an application developer at UberJets. Even better, the self-described Elon Musk “fan” got to speak with the man he’s admired for years.
Though the Twitter accounts haven’t yet resulted in any dangerous situations, Musk does have a point, at least according to Sweeney’s understanding and material available online. It is undoubtedly a thing for celebrities to get ambushed at airports by fans, individuals who want to sell their signature, paparazzi, stalkers, and the like. In recent years, Musk and other tech CEOs have established themselves as true celebrities. (Protocol attempted to call SpaceX’s media team to inquire if any violent incidents or threats, as one of the few remaining methods for the press to contact Musk after he disbanded Tesla’s PR team last year, but received no answer.)
Twitter bots, on the other hand, aren’t fazed by celebrities. They’ve just been processing the information Sweeney gave them. When accessible, the 15 bots use FAA data, which maintains track of when and where flights depart and land, as well as their intended course. Musk’s plane, along with many others, is on the LADD block list, which eliminates identifying data from the data.
Musk was shocked by how easily accessible the data was once Sweeney disclosed where he was getting it. He said, “Air traffic control is rather rudimentary.”
The most recent DM Musk and Sweeney exchanged was on Wednesday, when Sweeney stated that in exchange for deactivating the account, he would prefer an internship over payment. Musk hasn’t opened the message yet, according to Sweeney, but he isn’t insulted. In fact, he believes he knows why Musk has been silent: “If you check ElonJet, I believe he’s on vacation in Hawaii.”