The college student who tracks Elon Musk's private jet is launching his own flight-tracking website
Jet-tracking student Jack Sweeney has launched his own database for monitoring aircrafts.
Sweeney told Insider he built an alternative to ADS-B Exchange, which was sold last month.
Sweeney shares data that tracks private jets of celebrities, including Donald Trump and Elon Musk.
Jack Sweeney, the 20-year-old college student known for tracking Elon Musk's private jet on social media, is launching his own jet-tracking website.
Sweeney told Insider he decided to create the web-based public database after aviation data company JetNet announced last month that it had purchased ADS-B Exchange, a free website that tracks thousands of commercial aircraft around the world. Sweeney has used the ADS-B Exchange website to keep tabs on flights since he started tracking private-jet data back in 2020.
But then the site announced it had been sold last month, and Sweeney said he was worried that its new owners, data provider JetNet, might cave to requests from celebrities and others to yank their private-jet information off its website.
A spokesperson for JetNet did not respond to a request for comment from Insider. ADS-B Exchange founder Dan Streufert previously said in a statement that the acquisition would accelerate the site's growth.
Sweeney's new site, theairtraffic.com, looks similar to ADS-B Exchange. It was built using the same open-source code that was used to create ADS-B Exchange. But Sweeney said he plans to eventually make the website more interactive and user-friendly than its competitor.
The ADS-B Exchange, which was founded in 2016, uses more than 9,000 volunteer-run radios, or "feeders," to transmit data from ADS-B-equipped aircraft. ADS-B is a surveillance technology that broadcasts information like GPS location and altitude from one aircraft to another, and to ground stations.
As for Sweeney's website, he's also using ADS-B feeders. He told Insider he's already begun receiving data from more than 160 feeders and expects to bring on many more after he officially announces the project on social media. The site also pulls data from other networks, including ADS-B Hub and ADS-B Exchange.
Sweeney said his jet-tracking accounts on social media that have gained popularity — and attracted some celebrity ire — still will pull data from the ADS-B Exchange site that his own site now aims to compete with. But Sweeney said his accounts, like @ElonJetNextDay, will also pull data from his own site. He says this will help diversify data sources and cut back his reliance on ADS-B Exchange.
After JetNet announced it had acquired the database last month, Sweeney called for feeders to boycott the platform, saying the sale undermined the point of creating the database in the first place and questioning whether the company would shut down the site or filter out private jet data of select users. JetNet has not announced any plans to change the site.
Still, Sweeney said, "I'd based my entire work and all of these bots off ADS-B data and if I can't have any control over it or a say in it, then I'm not sure how I'd be able to keep these bots running." Sweeney says he aims to turn theairtraffic.com into a collaborative effort that would allow the site to "always be open and unfiltered."
The sophomore college student at the University of Central Florida said it took several servers and numerous hours over the past few weeks to set up the site and he's far from done with it. Sweeney said he's thought of making an app for the site that would allow people to search for planes and he also plans to build another website that would centralize all of his celebrity and billionaire flight-tracking data — from Donald Trump to Taylor Swift — with a live map and notifications.
It's not the first time that college student has been forced to pivot in his attempts to keep his jet-tracking accounts up-and-running. In early 2022, Musk offered him $5,000 to stop sharing the flight information, but the then-teen upped the ante and asked for $50,000. Musk never followed up, Sweeney said.
Later, his accounts, including @ElonJet and @ZuccJet, were suspended in December after Musk took over Twitter, with Musk citing the jet-tracking accounts as a "physical safety violation."
Twitter has even updated its private information policy to restrict users from sharing people's live locations and Sweeney has begun posting flight data with a 24-hour waiting period to adhere to the social media site's policies.
According to the FAA, sharing the public information is legal, but there are a few federal programs that can help block the tracker. Still, the agency acknowledges that these are not a "silver bullet" and can be skirted via ADS-B Exchange.
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