What were you doing at 19-years old? Homework? Working a job? Trying to figure out where the next party was? Not if you were Jack Sweeney, a college freshmen. In that case, you’d be exchanging private messages with Elon Musk over the dangers of a flight-tracking Twitter bot.
As first reported by Protocol, Sweeney initially received a Twitter DM from the CEO of Tesla earlier last Fall. The message in question read as follows: “Can you take this down? It is a security risk.”
The message was received at 12:13 a.m, which Sweeney responded to the next morning — “Yes I can but it’ll cost you a Model 3 only joking unless?” @ElonJet is the name of Sweeney’s flight-tracking bot which, as of this writing, sits at 84,000 followers.
More than Musk— While this specific bot is geared towards Musk’s jet whereabouts, Sweeney has a total of 15 accounts that are all “programmed to parse the data and tweet every time a chosen plane takes off or lands.” The targets of these other bots are also high-profile figures in the tech world like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
The idea of a Twitter bot out there tracking flight patterns is apparently a cause of concern for the Tesla founder. “I don’t love the idea of being shot by a nutcase,” he told Sweeney over DM. After a few more exchanges, the subject of conversation pivoted to business — Musk offered $5,000 to Sweeney for him to delete the account, which was bringing in no more than $20 monthly.
In response, Sweeney pushed for a better deal and asked if there was “Any chance to up that to $50K? It would be great support in college and would possibly allow me to get a car maybe even a Model 3.” That’s about where conversation has stalled and while Sweeney hasn’t received any money yet, his Twitter bot(s) continue posting into the ether.
@ElonJet is certainly a more polarizing automated program than say this Twitter bot that uses replies to play DOOM. Celebrity obsession is a real thing and our tech overlords have unfortunately achieved a level of fandom that is at least similar to what your random actor may have, especially in Musk’s case.
Regardless, Sweeney isn’t doing anything illegal with his work — his bots use publicly available information from the FAA (when that’s in play) but since Musk’s jet is on the LADD block list, data from ADS-B transponders, which are present on most aircraft, is parsed from the ADS-B Exchange.