Billionaires and CEOs outraged about tracking their private planes online

How do you annoy both senior Chinese officials, Elon Musk and Kylie Jenner? Track their own planes. Sites and Twitter accounts that track air traffic in real time elicit skin reactions, from minor complaints to equipment confiscations.

Every year, Russian air cargo companies, Saudi plane owners or others ask Dan Struvert, founder of the American flight-tracking website ADS-B Exchange, to stop publishing their movements. without success.

general data

We haven’t deleted anything yet. This is general information. And I don’t want to be the arbiter who decides who’s right or wrong.” Dan Struvert explains.

There are some limitations, but groups reconstructing flight paths point out that the primary source of information is legally available and accessible to anyone with the necessary equipment.

US law requires that aircraft in certain areas be equipped with an ADS-B satellite system, which periodically transmits the aircraft’s location to air traffic controllers.

A site like Flightradar24 has 34,000 ground-based receivers around the world that can capture such signals and data sent to a central network and compare it to flight schedules and other aircraft information.

The 19-year-old gets to know Elon Musk’s plane

Successfully identifying an aircraft owner is another matter, according to Jack Sweeney, 19, the creator of the Twitter account. celebrity planeswho discovered Elon Musk’s private plane after a request to the US government’s public records.

The Tesla boss offered him $5,000 to bury the account ElonJetMore than 480 thousand subscribers follow every movement of the billionaire’s plane.

The “emission thing”

“He has a lot of interest, I’m doing something that works. People love to see what celebrities are doing and doing and what’s around the shows”notes Jack Sweeney, referring to discontent with the carbon footprint of aircraft.

Posting this kind of information on Twitter allows people to “to be more easily accessed and understood”he adds.

‘Private planes are like Uber’

In July, the account celebrity planes She revealed that reality TV star Kylie Jenner boarded a private jet for a 17-minute flight to California, causing an uproar on social media.

“They tell us working-class people to feel guilty about our yearly trip on a much-needed vacation while these celebrities ride private planes every day like it’s an Uber,” An angry user tweeted.

What are the red lines?

Neither Jack Sweeney nor Dan Struvert have mentioned a red line they do not want to cross in terms of publishing flight paths.

“The data is already there. I’m just redistributing them”As Jack Sweeney says.

This activity also generates income, even if it is difficult to value. Dan Struvert admits he makes a living this way but refuses to give details while Jack Sweeney asserts that his flight tracking accounts fetched him about $100 a month. Flightradar24 does not communicate when it is spinning.

strategic effect

Tracking flights could have a significant impact beyond the outrage of celebrities and billionaires, such as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan on Tuesday, which was followed by more than 700,000 people on Flightradar24 at the time of its landing.

In August, a report by a non-governmental organization accusing the European border control agency, Frontex, of facilitating the forcible return of migrants trying to cross the perilous Mediterranean Sea, was based on data from ADS-B systems, as well as used by US media to denounce the presence of surveillance flights during the demonstrations. Anti-racism in Washington in 2020.

Dozens of elected members of Congress, after these discoveries, had urged in a letter the FBI and other government agencies such as the National Guard to ‘Stop watching peaceful protesters’.

China condemns ‘espionage’

Elsewhere in the world, governments have made it clear that these technologies and this type of data are not welcome.

Chinese state media reported in 2021 that the government confiscated hundreds of receivers used by real-time flight tracking websites under the guise of danger. “spy”.

“In many cases, it is authoritarian regimes that do not like this kind of appearance.”confirms Dan Struvert.

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