Billionaires, Hollywood stars and global climate activists share fame, fortune and a profile they work hard to control. All of this is why so many are calling for a public company not to track their flights and expose their carbon footprints.
AFP References Flight-tracking websites and Twitter accounts that offer real-time views of air traffic have been on the receiving end of regular pushback ranging from complaints to tool seizures from those who prefer their movements not to be public.
One US-based group alone receives dozens of “requests” each year to stop publishing aircraft flight movements, according to its organizer, Dan Streufert.
“We have not removed anything so far. This is all public information. And I don’t want to be the arbiter of who’s right and who’s wrong,” added Streufert, founder of the ADS-B Exchange flight tracking website that can track any flight from a private person to a politician, star, activist or royalty.
Are these raindrops flying private jets or not? Asking for a friend. https://t.co/J5Q5ykzEQr
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) December 1, 2020
The AFP report states that the limits apply in some cases, but the groups that piece together the flight paths note that the basic source of information is legally available and open to anyone with the proper equipment to bring it fully into the public domain.
Under US rules, planes in designated areas are required to be equipped with ADS-B technology that broadcasts aircraft positions using signals that relatively simple equipment can pick up. It describes what happens next:
A service like Sweden-based Flightradar24 has 34,000 receivers around the world, mostly operated by volunteers, to receive the signals, a key source of information that is routed back to a central network and combined with data for flight schedules and aircraft information.
Figuring out or confirming who actually owns a plane can take some research, said jet tracker Jack Sweeney, who filed a public records request with the U.S. government that provided a form signed by the owner of a particular plane: of Tesla boss Elon Musk.
Sweeney has drawn attention for his Twitter account that tracks the billionaire’s plane movements and even turned down Musk’s $5,000 offer to shut down @ElonJet, which has over 480,000 followers.
“There’s so much traction, I’m doing something right. The celebrity thing – people like to see what celebrities are doing, that and the whole show thing,” he told AFP, referring to concerns about the greenhouse gas impact of airplanes.
“Posting it on Twitter makes it easier for people to access and understand,” Sweeney added.
Another of Sweeney’s Twitter accounts, powered by data from the ADS-B Exchange, showed in July that US celebrity Kylie Jenner’s plane made a flight to California that lasted just 17 minutes, Breitbart News reported.
Kylie Jenner’s Jet took off from Camarillo, California, USA. Transfer to Van Nuys, CA, USA (VNY, Van Nuys Airport) arriving in ~3m. pic.twitter.com/Jo0ZAfaJ69
— Celebrity Jets (@CelebJets) July 13, 2022
The internet was not happy.
The star quickly faced a barrage of criticism on social media over concerns about the message he sent on climate change, with others pointing out the sheer hypocrisy.
Jenner was called a “climate criminal” for taking relatively quick private jet flights with boyfriend Travis Scott, in a response that followed a response from Taylor Swift about her frequent private jet flights.
Taylor Swift needs her own private jet or else she’s going to travel around the world collecting every sparkly bodysuit in existence
— Zach Schiffman (@schlife) July 31, 2022
The problem goes far beyond Taylor Swift and private jets. Celebrities, corporations and the rich leaving huge carbon footprints is a global trend. The richest 1% emit about 70 times more carbon than the bottom 50%.
— Adam Best (@adamcbest) July 30, 2022
“Us working class people are being told to feel bad about flying once a year for the vacation we need, while these celebs take private jets every other day like it’s Uber,” tweeted @juliphoria, in a another example of outrage.
“We’ll watch anything, because frankly, if somebody was a really bad actor and wanted to know where this thing is, you can build the electronics for $100 and just develop receivers to pick up the same signals yourself,” Streufert said from ADS. -B Exchange, recognizing that the data is already out there. It just needs to be distributed.
Climate activists have also been called out after being observed taking multiple flights in their private jets from what were once completely private matters, as Bill Gates was forced to acknowledge:
In some parts of the world, governments have made it clear that the technology and the resulting information are not welcome and are ready to move against it – by force if necessary.
Chinese state media reported in 2021 that the authoritarian Communist government had seized hundreds of receivers used to monitor flights by crowds, citing the risk of “espionage”.
“In many cases, it’s authoritarian regimes that don’t like this exposure,” Streufert said.