College kid’s Twitter bot that stalks Musk’s jet now tracking Russian oligarchs

The plane took off from the airport in Germany. It is1-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-6556 The jet is owned by Alisher Usmanov, who has been known to visit spas in the Alps. The Russian billionaire was banned from travel in the European Union at the time of the takeoff.

Twenty minutes later, a Twitter bot created by a college student dutifully fired off a tweet notifying anyone who was watching that Usmanov’s plane was headed east. Hours later, it touched down in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, Usmanov’s hometown.

The only plane that is tracked is that of Usmanov. Every time the movements of 46 jets owned or leased by more than 20 Russian oligarchs hit the site that collects data from aviation enthusiasts who run their own equipment to monitor airplane movements, the bot is updated. Sanctions and travel bans have been imposed on many of the oligarchs.

People have been asking me about Putin for a while. Sweeney told NBC News that they wanted to know if they could track him. The ultra-wealthy in Putin's circle spend a lot of time in the air.

Jack Sweeney, the 19-year-old University of Central Florida student who created the bot, has made the news before. The movements of Musk's private jet are tracked by Sweeney. Musk offered Sweeney $5,000 to shut down the account, after he became annoyed with the attention. Sweeney asked for a Model 3, then $50,000, and an internship. He told Musk where his bot got its data, which is publicly available. Musk hasn't taken him up on any of the counter-offers.

Advertisement Sweeney’s bot is made possible by the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system, which is required for many aircraft flying in the US and the EU. With ADS-B, aircraft use GPS and their onboard sensors to calculate and periodically transmit their position, altitude, and velocity, and anyone with the appropriate receiver can listen for the broadcasts. The system has revolutionized air traffic control, providing accurate position and velocity data every second, far more frequently than the typical five seconds that ground-based radar offers.

There is a guide on the ADS-B Exchange website that explains how people can hook up their receivers to a computer and share their data.

The average person won't take the time to cross-reference the data with a list of aircraft that have been linked to Russian billionaires. Sweeney's bot not only does the heavy lifting, but it also shares the results on one of the world's most heavily used social media platforms.

It is possible that Sweeney's bot could be used as an open source intelligence source in Russia's war in Ukraine. Just as investors and Musk fans use the jet movements of billionaires to theorize about what the billionaire is doing, so may the jet movements of billionaires reveal what's happening inside Russia.

On Friday, for example, a plane linked to Roman Abramovich took off from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel and landed at Vnukovo Airport outside Moscow before heading to Azerbaijan. It took off three hours after it returned to Moscow. According to reports, Abramovich is trying to negotiate an end to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.