Jack Sweeney uses publicly available data and says celebrities should ‘reasonably expect’ that their jets will be tracked.
Taylor Swift is threatening legal action against a student tracking her private jet.
The pop star’s lawyers hit Jack Sweeney, a 22-year-old studying information technology at the University of Central Florida, with a cease-and-desist letter in December.
Sweeney has made a name for himself by using public data and social media to track the private jets of billionaires, politicians and other celebrities – leading to one very public dust-up with Elon Musk in 2022.
In a letter shared by Sweeney with the Associated Press (AP), Swift’s attorneys blame his automated tracking of her private jet for tipping off stalkers as to her location.
They accuse the student of effectively providing “individuals intent on harming her, or with nefarious or violent intentions, a roadmap to carry out their plans.”
In response, Sweeney emphasised that while he has never intended to cause harm, he also believes strongly in the importance of transparency and public information.
“One should reasonably expect that their jet will be tracked, whether or not I’m the one doing it, as it is public information after all,” he wrote.
Why is Swift’s private jet use in the spotlight?
The American singer-songwriter is often listed as among the most prolific private jet users.
One survey by sustainability marketing firm Yard alleged her plane emitted 8,300 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2022, 1,184 times the average person’s total annual emissions.
Her spokespeople have contested such claims, pointing out that Swift’s jet is regularly loaned out to other people, and that she offsets her trips.
One spokesperson told the Washington Post this week that the star bought more than double the amount of carbon credits needed to offset her private jet use during her Eras Tour.
But experts are sceptical about how effective carbon offsetting really is as a practice.
“The best thing to do is keep the fossil fuels in the ground,” Dr James King, a climate scientist at the University of Sheffield, previously told Euronews Green.
Why is Swift threatening legal action against her private jet tracker?
A spokesperson for Swift echoed the legal complaint, saying that “the timing of stalkers” suggests a connection to Sweeney’s flight-tracking sites.
The spokesperson did not respond to questions seeking elaboration of that charge, such as whether stalkers have been seen waiting for Swift at the airport when her plane arrived or, alternatively, if there is evidence that stalkers have somehow inferred Swift’s subsequent location from the arrival time of her flight.
The legal letter likewise accuses Sweeney of “disregarding the personal safety of others”; “willful and repeated harassment of our client”; and “intentional, offensive, and outrageous conduct and consistent violations of our client’s privacy.”
Such statements are difficult to square with the fact that Sweeney’s automated tracking accounts merely repackage public data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, a government agency.
That fact did not dissuade the Venable attorneys, who demanded that Sweeney “immediately stop providing information about our client’s location to the public.”
The Swift spokesperson did not reply to a question inquiring whether the attorneys had issued the same demand to the FAA.
Who is Jack Sweeney?
Jack Sweeney has created social media bots that track the private jets of public figures and measure their carbon emissions.
At one point Sweeney had more than 30 such accounts on Twitter, now known as X after Elon Musk purchased the site in 2022.
Musk subsequently had his own dustup with Sweeney, tweeting at one point that his commitment to free speech required him not to ban Sweeney’s @elonjet account even though he considered it “a direct personal safety risk.”
But it wasn’t long before Musk abruptly about-faced and effectively banned the student from X, accusing Sweeney of endangering his personal safety.