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 October 25

by Carolina

  • Jet-tracker Jack Sweeney rocked the boat when he started posting Elon Musk’s private jet flights on Twitter.
  • The 20-year-old uses data from aircraft tracking website ADS-B Exchange, which is public information.
  • Celebrities can block their jets on certain websites via a special federal program, but Sweeney says it doesn’t help.

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Earlier this year, 20-year-old Jack Sweeney made headlines when he publicly tracked Elon Musk’s private aircraft on Twitter. Since then, Sweeney’s other accounts like Trump Jets and Zucc Jet have gained a following.

Because of rising privacy and environmental concerns, some billionaires, celebrities, and businesspeople have started looking at ways to dodge the trackers. Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault is one: He recently sold his private aircraft so “no one can see where I go.” He now rents instead.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also only charters private jets as of 2017, with the company citing “security and efficiency” reasons.

Meanwhile, other high-profile people like Taylor Swift and Kylie Jenner — who were slammed over the summer for taking hundreds of flights per year — are using the FAA’s free “Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed” program, or LADD, to avoid trackers. Trump also is enrolled in the program for his Trump Force One plane, as is Oprah Winfrey for a plane she uses.

The program allows private aircraft owners to block their planes from being tracked by websites like FlightAware and FlightRadar24 because they use FAA data

However, their plans are being thwarted by aircraft tracking website ADS-B Exchange. ADS-B is able to broadcast planes’ whereabouts because it doesn’t rely on FAA data like the other services that track planes. Because of that, it’s not subject to the FAA’s privacy programs.

Elon Musk's private jet flight with PIA flag.

Elon Musk’s private jet flight with PIA flag, tracked by Jack Sweeney.

Jack Sweeney via ADS-B Exchange

This means even planes that are part of LADD can be tracked by anyone with a smartphone or computer, and it is exactly the source Sweeney uses for his myriad jet-tracking Twitter accounts.

Sweeney has even created a “LADD List” website that acts as a registry of aircraft that are part of the FAA’s program, and shows all planes that are, or once were, part of LADD.

“The LADD list isn’t so helpful because the plane is still identifying itself through ADS-B Exchange,” Sweeney told Insider.

Some jet owners have also started looking into another track-blocking option: the FAA’s privacy ICAO aircraft address program, or PIA.

According to the agency, private plane owners can apply for a temporary aircraft registration number that is not currently attached to any plane, meaning they can basically fly incognito.

An FAA presentation at the NBAA conference.

An FAA presentation at a conference in Orlando in mid-October. The slide is titled: “Practical Approach to Mitigating Real-time Tracking.”

Jack Sweeney

However, Sweeney told Insider that even those aircraft can be tracked using ADS-B Exchange, as shown by a screenshot shared with Insider that shows Musk’s jet flying on May 7 with no callsign, and no tail number, but had “PIA” flagged. Sweeney’s Elon Jet Twitter bot also recorded the flight.

With jet-tracking becoming a major problem for the ultra-wealthy, the FAA has opened discussion on how to better block websites like ADS-B Exchange. At the National Business Aviation Association’s conference in mid-October, the FAA talked about how to mitigate real-time tracking, but admitted: “There are no silver bullets.” 

Sweeney shared a slide from the FAA’s presentation at the conference with Insider, which outlined ways the planes can still be tracked, like via LiveATC, which is real-time air traffic control conversation, and common departure airports.

“Elon Musk, for example, has a Gulfstream and there’s only so many people that fly that particular plane out of Brownsville, Texas, and fly to the same airports,” Sweeney told Insider.

Original posted at news.google.com

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