Jack Sweeney never intended to get into a standoff with Elon Musk.
But Sweeney, 19, says he’s now been blocked by the billionaire on social media — after turning down $5,000 to shut down a Twitter service that tracks Musk’s private jet, and making an unrequited demand for $50,000 or at least an internship opportunity.
“I knew he had a plane, you know, as a fan of SpaceX and Tesla stuff,” Sweeney said in an interview. “I thought the Elon Musk’s Jet bot would reveal like where he’s going and what business he’s doing.”
He still hopes Musk will come back to the bargaining table, but in the meantime is launching a business — called Ground Control — that monitors the flight activity of additional high-interest planes. Sweeney, a freshman at the University of Central Florida, launched “Elon Musk’s Jet” in June 2020, and now also wants to make money by tracking other prominent billionaires including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
What may have started as a hobby has the potential to become a lucrative venture for the teen. Firms including Nasdaq Data Link have begun offering private and corporate aviation intelligence to clients who hope to get a leg up with critical business information. Atypical corporate travel can provide clues about a company’s business activity, mergers and acquisitions and more.
“Companies in flight tracking have millions in revenue per year,” Sweeney said. “Just a small cut of what they make would be good revenue for me.”
However, launching a business providing real-time location data of private aircrafts presents both privacy and legal concerns. Colby Howard, the president of Paragon Intel — which provides corporate aviation intelligence through its product JetTrack — warns that earning a profit from providing this kind of information may have ramifications much like it did for App Annie, an alternative data provider that got hit with charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2021.
“The cowboy days of scraping data and selling it for hundreds of thousands of dollars are long gone,” Howard said. “You can’t just milk it out for as much as you can because there could be legal issues as well.”
Sweeney says Musk first reached out to him in November last year, requesting the account be shut down because the Tesla CEO viewed it as a security risk. But he refused and turned down a monetary offer to put an end to the service.
“The amount of time and dedication I have put into it is cool — like, 5K isn’t enough to drop it,” Sweeney said, adding that he started the project in high school.
Instead, the Florida teen made a counteroffer of $50,000, which he hoped could help pay for college or a Tesla Model 3. Musk — whose net worth surged more than $21 billion on Monday to almost $242 billion — demurred. He blocked all social media accounts connected to the Florida teen on Sunday night, Sweeney said.
“You know, it’s kinda strange, he wants it down and seems like he’s really mad,” Sweeney said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)