Teen Tracking Elon's Jet Has Offer for Celebrity Superfans

Jack Sweeney wants to 'monetize' accounts to track jets of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Drake, more
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2022 10:55 AM CST
Updated Feb 2, 2022 12:10 PM CST
Elon Musk to Teen: Here's $5K, Stop Tracking My Jet
In this Dec. 1, 2020, file photo, Elon Musk is seen in Berlin.   (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Update: Opportunity has landed on Jack Sweeney's tarmac. The Florida teen who turned down a $5,000 offer from Elon Musk to stop tracking his jet has created 16 more automated Twitter accounts to track aircraft belonging to other big names—think Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, and Drake. And he's setting up "dozens more," per the Guardian. Sweeney, 19, says he plans to "monetize" the accounts via his Ground Control website, offering custom tracking services to superfans interested in keeping tabs on celebrities' whereabouts. He also tells the New York Post he's been offered a job by Orlando-based Stratos Jet Charters, a private charter-jet firm that wants him on its tech development team. He's not sure if he'll accept. Our original story from Monday follows:

Since June 2020, a Twitter account with the handle @ElonJet has been keeping tabs on the private jet of—you guessed it—Elon Musk, tracking the aircraft via a bot that picks up readily available data from the Federal Aviation Administration on the jet's comings and goings. The account soon attracted a good number of followers—220,000 was the current count as of Monday morning—a fact that apparently spooked the Tesla and SpaceX CEO and led him to reach out to the teen who runs it. "Can you take this down? It is a security risk," read the first private message sent by Musk on Twitter, just after midnight on Nov. 30, to Jack Sweeney, per Protocol.

The half-joshing reply from Sweeney, a 19-year-old college freshman at the University of Central Florida: "Yes I can but it'll cost you a Model 3 only joking unless?" And so the online conversation kicked off between the two, with Musk writing to Sweeney, "I don't love the idea of being shot by a nutcase." After some more back-and-forth, Musk sweetened the pot for Sweeney, who also runs more than a dozen other flight-tracking accounts on private aircraft belonging to the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other high-profile names in tech. After Sweeney revealed he made around $20 a month off of all his accounts, Musk offered him $5,000 to shutter @ElonJet. "Any chance to up that to $50k?" Sweeney replied, adding that the cash would help him pay for college expenses and possibly a car.

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While Protocol reports that Musk "ghosted" Sweeney after that—even after Sweeney shifted gears and suggested an internship instead—USA Today notes Musk did respond at one point that it "doesn't feel right to pay to shut this down" and instead encouraged the teen to consider offers in bitcoin that he'd received to keep the @ElonJet account up and running. It's a pastime that does appear to be a labor of love for the teen, whose dad is in the airline industry, and who's been tracking planes since he was a kid. "[$5,000] is not enough for how much I get out of it," Sweeney tells CNN Business, citing the "enjoyment factor." He says he did fill Musk in on software that could block flight trackers, and it looks like Musk implemented such a block—but Sweeney has figured out a way to circumvent it. "It's just a bit more complicated," Sweeney notes. (More Elon Musk stories.)

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