How a teenager’s Twitter stalks Russian oligarchs


Written by Esteban Pardo

Jack Sweeney, a 19-year-old American student, is in good shape. He is known as the teenager who stalks the private jets of the rich. It posts their movements on Twitter, using publicly available data and an automated computer program, known as a “bot”.

Sweeney first gained media attention for tracking the moves of big names in the tech industry, the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

But it now also tracks private jets belonging to some of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires, the so-called oligarchs.

Jets of Russian oligarchs

Sweeney’s new automated Twitter account, or bot, is called Russian Oligar Jets.

The bot uses a public database to track planes, then automatically posts tweets with their locations and flight times, each time one of the planes takes off or lands.

One of his targets is Vladimir Potanin. Potanin is the 10th richest person in the world and the second richest in Russia. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index reports that Potanin’s estimated net worth is around $87 billion.

It also follows Roman Abramovich’s planes and helicopters. Abramovich owns, among other things, Chelsea Football Club in the UK – although he has handed over management of the club, it seems, because of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions that were imposed on Russia in result.

One of Abramovich’s planes was recently spotted flying off St. John’s in Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he was on the plane.

Sweeney told the New York Post that he opened the new account after receiving “requests” when the United States and its allies began imposing these sanctions on Russia and “its elite,” as the report puts it. American newspaper.

How Sweeney Trackers Work

@RUOligarJets uses a crowdsourced public database called ADS-B Exchange.

The volunteers, known as “feeders”, follow the flights using three inexpensive pieces of equipment.

“All you need,” says ADS-B Exchange, is a Raspberry Pi computer, a Software Defined Radio (SDR) scanner, and an antenna “all of which can be purchased for $100 to $200.”

Feeders use the configuration to receive ADS-B broadcasts from aircraft.

ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast. It is an aircraft monitoring technology that identifies aircraft, their positions and speed, among other things. It’s like the Automatic Identification System (AIS) used on ocean-going ships.

Anyone with an antenna can receive these broadcasts. You also need the SDR and the computer to process ADS-B signals, but that’s basically how Sweeney’s database and Twitter bots work.

The computer science undergraduate created another account called @PutinJet, which, according to its own description, tracks “Russian VIP jets and anything Putin can use.”

A plane tracking enthusiast

Sweeney tweeted that he was tracking more than 150 planes, including “every major plane in the US Air Force” and the US President’s Air Force One.

He posted lists of aircraft tracking numbers and the names of their owners. But even Musk wondered how the teenager was able to identify and track planes with a bot, that is, according to a screenshot of a direct message between the two, posted by the New York Post.

“Maybe just by watching planes of a particular type land and take off?” Musk seems to have asked Sweeney.

There are open records, but they rarely reveal all the details. So it’s an open question.

Sweeney says he started following accounts, like @ElonJet, as a hobby. He says he is a Musk fan and was just interested in Musk’s interests.

At the time of writing, @ElonJet has nearly 400,000 followers.

And now Sweeney has become an interest in its own right.

Musk asked Sweeney to stop tracking his contraption, offering Sweeney $5,000.

Sweeney refused.

The student then made a counter offer, asking Musk for $50,000.

And Musk refused.

Published by: Zulfikar Abbey


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