This Twitter bot tracks the movements of Russian oligarchs’ private jets

Mar 1, 2022

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As pressure increases on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, a new tool is tracking the movements of the oligarchs who hold significant power in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

That comes from college student Jack Sweeney, who famously created the ElonJet Twitter account that tracks Elon Musk’s private jet and then refused to accept a small bribe from the multi-billionaire to shut it down. Now, he’s out with a new bot that tracks the private jets of 21 oligarchs — wealthy, powerful Russian businesspeople.

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Russian Oligarch Jets (@RUOligarchJets) was created this week and already has nearly 150,000 Twitter followers. While there is no guarantee that the oligarch is on board these aircraft at any given time, it does tweet out the departures and arrivals of each of these aircraft globally, as long as there is ADS-B Exchange coverage.

ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast and is a tracking system where aircraft broadcast over public airways their altitude, position and other data that is derived from onboard systems. Because ADS-B is using public airwaves and is a public, or open protocol, hobbyists are able to easily receive the ADS-B signals that are transmitted from aircraft. Using small, inexpensive equipment like an antenna and a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, ADS-B signals can be received and decoded. Many also use these systems to then send the ADS-B data that they receive to popular flight tracking websites such as FlightAware and Flightradar24. “Feeders,” as they are often known, receive a complimentary enterprise-level paid account in return for sharing their data.

More: Sorry, Elon Musk. Your Gulfstream can’t be fully untrackable

In Sweeny’s case, he uses data from an open-source flight-tracking website, ADS-B Exchange. The big difference between this website and the commercial flight tracking websites is that ADS-B Exchange doesn’t block any aircraft from view, while the commercial websites do honor the so-called block lists that exist at the Federal Aviation Administration and elsewhere. In the case of ElonJet, Sweeney said on Twitter that he was able to evade another privacy system that Musk had deployed. It’s unclear if Sweeney is using similar tactics for this new account; TPG reached out to him for comment but has not yet heard back.

The bot currently tracks the following oligarchs and their jets:

The increased scrutiny on oligarchs comes as the world’s opinion has galvanized for Ukraine and against Russia’s invasion. That Sweeney’s effort has gained much attention in such little time shows the level to which the world is engaging with the ongoing developments in Ukraine. If you’d like to support Ukraine, TPG has assembled a guide of organizations accepting donations.

Featured photo of P4-MES B763 Global Jet Luxembourg VKO 1 by Papas Dos is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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