When 19-year-old Jack Sweeney created a bot to track the private jets belonging to the likes of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Drake, Kim Kardashian and Steven Spielberg — as well as Vladimir Putin and a slew of Russian oligarchs — the teen boffin had no idea what was coming for him.
In 2020 he launched a Twitter account linked to a bot that tracks the movements of the world’s richest person — or at least, whoever is catching a ride in Musk’s private jet. @ElonJet’s premise is simple: bots scrape publicly available air traffic data from ADS-B Exchange and post real-time updates of flights.
It caught the attention of the Tesla billionaire, who tried (and failed) to bribe Sweeney to take the account down. But the coverage of their David-and-Goliath interaction catapulted the teen into the public eye, leading him to create a fleet of bots to post the sky-high movements of the world’s rich and famous.
The Twitter account @CelebJets was born.
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“I set it up of course because people had requested it after ElonJet,” Sweeney tells Crikey. “But I think it’s important to let people know that these celebrities are flying as much as they are.
“Give people the power.”
In addition to his run-in with Musk — which the teen took like a champ, countering Musk’s offer of $5000 to kill off the account with an eyewatering $50,000 — he says American billionaire entrepreneur and television personality Mark Cuban and real estate billionaire (and Scientologist) Grant Cardone have contacted him about the account.
“Kind of like my Elon thing, I didn’t know how big it would get,” Sweeney admits.
@CelebJets automatically posts a radar graphic of the aircraft’s destination and time elapsed, but it’s Sweeney’s addition of a follow-up tweet that lists the fuel and emissions stats that is garnering the rising ire of some 80,300 followers and counting — as well as tens of thousands of TikTok users, not to mention the world’s media on a near-daily basis.
Take, for instance, Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg’s jet, which took an 11-minute flight on Monday and spewed out one tonne of CO2 emissions. It would’ve been a 35-minute drive, according to Google Maps.
Or rapper Drake’s jet flying 14 minutes in Canada at the weekend, spewing out some four tonnes of CO2 — about the same as an average American’s yearly emissions — just 12 months after Drake humblebragged on Twitter about reducing his personal carbon footprint and inspiring others to do the same.
“Looking forward to working with @aspiration and encouraging everyone to offset their carbon footprint,” Drake tweeted at the time.
The @CelebJets account also kicked off a firestorm of backlash for businesswoman Kylie Jenner, who was slammed as a “full-time climate criminal” for her “absolute disregard for the planet” after her 17-minute flight (one tonne of CO2) on July 12.
But Sweeney says creating @CelebJets wasn’t about the dismal carbon footprint the rich are leaving in their wake as they jet to luxury destinations — not at first, anyway. It was more “to show these people that these celebrities will fly where they want”.
“It may be that the people think these people fly too much or they like tracking them,” he says. “But I think most people will take it as the carbon emissions problem.”
“I’ve always thought it’s important to care about the environment, but it’s hard these days with how quick the world is to fly,” he says. “I’m sure a lot of these people would fly electric if the technology was [there] but it’s not.”
Plus, Sweeney reasons, a lot of Musk’s travel is likely to be related to business rather than pure, unadulterated, earth-killing joyrides. Musk is the founder, CEO and chief engineer at SpaceX; an angel investor, CEO and product architect at Tesla; founder of the Boring Company; and co-founder of Neuralink and OpenAI (not to mention a father of 10).
And it’s not like Sweeney has a problem with the controversial billionaire and his mark on the world — quite the opposite, in fact, considering the teen’s alternative offer to the $50,000 payday was a Tesla internship or his very own Tesla Model 3.
For now, Sweeney is a freshman at the University of Central Florida, studying information technology with a goal to work as a software engineer, though he has plans to establish a company called Ground Control to take his monitoring of billionaire flight activity to the next level.
His first big purchase?
“Once I have the money my number one car is a Tesla,” he says. “It’s green, it’s fast and futuristic.”
No hard feelings then.
This article was first published by Crikey.