The jet-tracking teen stopped tweeting Mark Cuban’s flights for free, but refused $5,000 from Elon Musk for the same thing
If you want Jack Sweeney to stop publicly tracking your private jet on Twitter, take a leaf out of Mark Cuban’s book and offer the 19-year-old something better than money: friendship.
Sweeney, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida, is the teenager responsible for 30 automated Twitter accounts that collectively track the flights of hundreds of celebrities, politicians and billionaires — from Elon Musk and Kylie Jenner to a series of Russian oligarchs. And since he started his side hustle in June 2020, he says he’s only agreed to a single “stop tracking me” request.
In a February direct message on Twitter, Cuban asked Sweeney to disable @MCubansJets in exchange for his friendship and business advice, according to screenshots reviewed by CNBC Make It. “He said, ‘I’d be your friend,’ and I asked if I could meet him at a basketball game,” Sweeney, 19, tells CNBC Make It.
Sweeney says the pair negotiated into May — in the virtual exchange, Cuban said he’d be willing to meet Sweeney at a Dallas Mavericks game next season — before striking a deal. It appears Sweeney has held up his end: The account, which he designed as a bot that updates automatically, hasn’t tweeted since April, and its bio says that its code has been disabled.
Cuban declined CNBC Make It’s request for comment.
Sweeney’s loyalty appears to come at a price, and friendship may be more valuable than the money some billionaires are willing to pay: In January, Musk offered Sweeney $5,000 to stop tweeting the whereabouts of his private planes. Sweeney declined, asking for $50,000 instead. The account that tracks Musk’s flights, @ElonJet, is still active today, with more than 479,000 followers on Twitter.
By comparison, Sweeney’s @MCubansJets account only has roughly 3,300 followers. Sweeney says that made it easier for him to accept Cuban’s takedown request: Ditching the less-popular account in exchange for free networking was a no-brainer.
Sweeney says both Cuban and Musk expressed personal safety concerns about the flight tracking, but doesn’t see that as a compelling argument: His code only transmits publicly available information from websites like ADS-B Exchange, which post the location, altitude and speed transmitted by every federally regulated aircraft.
And, Sweeney adds, celebrities usually aren’t particularly private about owning jets in the first place. “People have the private planes, they post all of these pictures on them,” he says. “It’s not a secret.”
Sweeney says only one other person, a lawyer for venture capitalist Grant Cardone, has asked him to halt flight tracking. Like Cuban, the request came in a direct message on Twitter, according to screenshots reviewed by CNBC Make It. And like @MCubansJets, the @CardoneJet account doesn’t have many followers: currently fewer than 2,000.
Yet @CardoneJet remains active on Twitter. Sweeney says he never actually responded to the lawyer’s request, which didn’t offer anything in return for deactivating the account.
Sweeney says he hopes to eventually monetize his Twitter accounts, potentially by turning his personal website into an all-in-one celebrity flight tracker or finding a way to offer carbon offsets for some of the flights he tracks. But for now, he adds, he only plans to keep growing the number of flights the code can access.
“[I’m motivated] because people are still really interested in this,” Sweeney says.