Why Elon Musk Just Offered This Teen $5,000 To Delete His Twitter

When you're in the public eye as often as someone like Elon Musk, you aren't always going to like the kinds of things people pay attention to. Musk is finding himself in that situation this week, as he's contending with a Twitter bot that's tracking his flights. Every time Musk takes off from somewhere and lands in a new location, that Twitter bot reports it, and now it seems that Musk is willing to pay to silence the bot for good.

The Twitter account in question is @ElonJet, and since the account's creation in June 2020, it's been sharing details of many – if not all – of Elon Musk's flights. A 19-year-old by the name of Jack Sweeney is the person behind the account, and he's created a total of 15 Twitter bots that track and post data on celebrity flights.

According to Protocol, Sweeney was contacted by Musk in 2021, with the SpaceX and Tesla CEO offering to pay him $5,000 to take down the Twitter bot. Sweeney, despite his age, seems to understand when he holds all the cards and reportedly asked Musk to up his offer. "Any chance to up that to $50k?" Sweeney asked in a Twitter DM with Musk. "It would be great support in college and would possibly allow me to get a car maybe even a Model 3."

Up to this point, the two haven't been able to strike a deal, so ElonJet remains active for now. The bot's recent post history suggests that Musk is back in Austin, Texas, after a brief vacation in Hawaii, but of course, the data that the Twitter bot shares only shows the location of the plane in question, not who was riding it.

It's clear why Musk might not want something like his flight data so easily accessible by the public – as he put it in his DM with Sweeney, "I don't love the idea of being shot by a nutcase" – but the data Sweeney is using for his Twitter bot isn't exactly private.

As Protocol's report explains, tracking Musk when he's in the air isn't quite as easy as looking up FAA data because any information that would identify Musk's flights specifically is kept private. Sweeney's bots instead rely on information from the ADS-B Exchange (which publishes data from most planes with an ADS-B transponder), along with anonymized FAA flight plans and data from airports to figure out which flights belong to Musk.

So, while Sweeney's bots do need to perform some of the heavy lifting in the form of cross-referencing this data to figure out when Musk is traveling, they're using information that's publicly accessible. Although it might take some know-how when it comes to identifying certain planes, it seems that anyone willing to do some digging can figure out the details of celebrity flights, even when those celebrities have requested that the FAA limit the flight data that's publicly accessible.

Sweeney has argued as much in the past, saying in a series of tweets published on January 18th that his "account has every right to post jet whereabouts." Those who want to argue for truly private flights should take it up with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and tell them "to make a more privacy-focused ADS-B system," according to Sweeney.

He adds that his code is open-source, and others have said they'll recreate his trackers if his bot accounts are taken down. "Taking down this account doesn't stop someone determined from doing something bad," Sweeney says, adding, "they could still go to other websites."

On the other side of that coin, it's hard to fault Musk for being concerned that fans may use this data to follow him between airports – and that one of them might have some ill-intent in doing so. Protocol reached out to Musk via SpaceX's PR team to ask if he'd had any negative fan encounters at airports but didn't hear anything back. Still, it only takes one negative encounter, so the notion that it hasn't happened yet may not be much comfort to celebrities who are uneasy about their flight data being so easily accessible.

Looking through Sweeney's older tweets, it seems the ElonJet account has been under the threat of removal before. On December 1st, 2021, Sweeney tweeted from his personal account that ElonJet "will probably be gone soon." A month later, on January 3rd, 2022, Sweeney shared new details, saying the following:

"While ElonJet hasn't come down but I have warned of it. We need to remember to keep our boundaries if we don't it may have to come down or may forcibly be taken down. ElonJet was started to track business moves not have people ambush Elon at airports." – Jack Sweeney (@JxckSweeney)

Sweeney hasn't tweeted anything else about the potential takedown of ElonJet in the time since then, so for now, it stays. Sweeney told Protocol that he's now aiming to get an internship instead of payment in return for taking the bot down, but he hasn't heard from Elon yet. Depending on how much Musk is willing to deal, ElonJet's remaining days could be numbered or they could be indefinite, but one thing's for sure: it'll be interesting to see where things go from here now that Sweeney and his bots are getting more attention than ever.