Meet Jack Sweeney, a university student from Florida who has found a unique way to engage with some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential individuals. How does he do it? By keeping the public informed about the whereabouts of their private planes and the environmental impact of their flights.
Jack wants to make a few things clear. First and foremost, he’s a fan of Taylor Swift’s music. However, he firmly believes that, despite potential legal consequences, everyone should have access to information about where her private jet is going and how frequently it takes to the skies.
In an email to the BBC, Jack expressed his approach, saying, “I like to be fair. I try to share everyone’s info no matter who it is.”
jack sweeney, 21-year-old university student from the suburbs of Orlando, with a knack for stirring up attention and legal challenges due to his unique hobby. Jack, the son of an airline maintenance operations controller and a teacher, has always been fascinated by aviation and technology, particularly drawn to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla ventures.
His passion led him to create TheAirTraffic.com, a plane tracking website, and associated social media accounts that monitor the movements of private planes belonging to celebrities, politicians, tycoons, and even Russian oligarchs. Jack’s system relies on publicly available data collected by amateur aviation enthusiasts who intercept signals regularly broadcast by planes, revealing their locations.
Part of the larger Osint (open-source intelligence) community, Jack’s online plane tracking community includes a diverse group ranging from casual enthusiasts to dedicated researchers and investigative journalists. Initially a hobby, Jack’s venture evolved into a more defined purpose over time, driven by his belief in the importance of transparency and public information.
Beyond mere curiosity, Jack also emphasizes an environmental angle, asserting that some flyers attempt to conceal the environmental impact of their carbon emissions. His data has been used in studies highlighting the carbon footprint of celebrities like Taylor Swift, who, in response, claims to have offset her emissions.
However, Jack faces privacy concerns, particularly from individuals like Taylor Swift, who argue that disclosing the location of their private planes poses a security risk. Swift’s lawyers argue that plane tracking is a “life-or-death matter” with no legitimate public interest, but Jack counters, pointing to the enthusiasm of Swift’s fans, known as Swifties, who actively engage with tracking accounts dedicated to the pop star’s flights. According to Jack, the supporters of these tracking accounts consistently outnumber the detractors, underscoring what he sees as a fundamental public interest in locating celebrities’ planes.
Given Taylor Swift’s global tours and numerous public appearances, including high-profile events like NFL games, it’s usually not difficult to predict her whereabouts. Recent stories have highlighted her travel plans, such as navigating between a Saturday night show in Tokyo and Sunday’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas.
While flight data can reveal the owner and location of an aircraft, it doesn’t disclose passenger identities or their destinations upon landing. Swift’s representatives argue that plane tracking provides precise details of her movements, citing a recent incident where an alleged stalker was arrested outside her New York home.
Jack Sweeney, the student behind the tracking, offered some advice to Swift, gently suggesting that, if privacy is her priority, she could register her private jet through an anonymous corporate entity and consider an identification code without her birthday and initials.
James Slater, Sweeney’s lawyer, doesn’t anticipate further legal action from Swift, stating that the initial letter was an attempt to pressure Jack into unnecessary actions. He added, “Unfortunately, individuals with power and money often resort to such tactics. Jack is not breaking any laws.”
As for the Swift fandom’s response, there was a mix of support and criticism online following news of the legal letter. Some expressed anger towards Sweeney, while others rallied behind him.
This isn’t the first time Jack Sweeney has faced pressure from high-profile figures. Notably, when he acquired Twitter (now X) in 2022, Elon Musk pledged, in the spirit of free speech, not to take action against Sweeney’s @elonjet tracking account.
In a surprising turn of events, Elon Musk initially allowed Jack Sweeney’s @elonjet tracking account but later reversed the decision, banning the account and threatening legal action. Musk claimed that the account led to a stalker finding him and approaching his aircraft while his child was inside. However, the police identified a member of Musk’s security team as the suspect, clarifying that Sweeney’s account played no role in the incident.
Jack Sweeney now operates an account that tracks Musk’s jet with a 24-hour delay, adhering to a rule against real-time location tracking. He also manages accounts on various social media platforms, monitoring planes owned by notable figures like Kim Kardashian, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Donald Trump.
Expressing frustration with social media rules, Sweeney highlighted Meta’s suspension of Facebook and Instagram accounts tracking Taylor Swift’s plane while allowing other plane tracking accounts, including those following Mark Zuckerberg’s aircraft. The BBC reached out to Meta for comment.
Within the community of planespotters on Jack Sweeney’s Discord server, there is a collective defense of his stance and a shared enthusiasm for their hobby. Some even admitted to being Taylor Swift fans. One commenter acknowledged the possibility of wild threats but emphasized that the airport is not where Swift is vulnerable.
Reporting by Gareth Evans contributed to this story.