Elon Musk’s Twitter Suspends Live ADS-B Aircraft Tracking Accounts Including @elonjet and ADS-B Exchange
As a reaction to an altercation with a stalker that endangered Elon Musk's child, Twitter has taken action to suspend all Twitter accounts that involve the real time tracking of aircraft and individuals. This includes the famous @elonjet handle which was an account run by a teenager known as Jack Sweeny that used data from adsbexchange.com to tweet live updates on the location of Elon's private jet.
It also appears that the Twitter account for ADS-B Exchange @ADSBexhchange itself has been suspended too, as well as various other flight tracking Twitter bots that were using data from ADS-B Exchange. Elon Musk's tweet indicates that legal action is being taken against "Sweeney & organizations who supported harm to my family". It is unclear if this implies that legal action will be taken against ADS-B Exchange.
ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast) is a radio signal that is required to be broadcast by all aircraft for the purposes of air traffic control and collision avoidance. The ADS-B signal provides real time unencrypted location information that anyone with a low cost radio receiver like an RTL-SDR and cheap computer like a Raspberry Pi can receive, decode and turn into a live map of aircraft in the surrounding area.
ADS-B Exchange is an ADS-B aggregator that collects ADS-B data received from volunteers all over the world that are running RTL-SDR and other SDR dongles or radios operating as ADS-B receivers. Compared to more commercial flight tracking services like FlightAware and FlightRadar24 (who also make use of volunteer stations), ADS-B Exchange guarantees that they will not censor the tracking of military, police or private jets. This has generated debate in the past over whether this philosophy is either more moral or less moral.
ADS-B Exchange has been key to projects like "Dictator Alert" which tracks the real time location of the private jets of known dictators.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has also made use of ADS-B Exchange data in the past to uncover the role that US civilian aircraft contractors are playing in the East African "kill chain".
Media have also used ADS-B Exchange to track the movements of the military aircraft like Black Hawk Helicopters and CBP Predator drones that were used to monitor crowds during the George Floyd protests.
On Twitter John Wiseman @lemonodor has also been using ADS-B Exchange data for various projects like "Advisory Circular Bots" which automatically detects circling aircraft (which may be of interest, as a circling aircraft may indicate an incident in the area), and for highlighting areas of the globe with possible GPS jamming which can be inferred from the GPS location data transmitted by aircraft. He also uncovered a massive, secret FBI operation involving the use of 'spy planes' operating over American cities.
Unrelated to ADS-B Exchange, live ADSB tracking is also used by hedge fund investors to gain an edge by tracking the movement of company aircraft in order to try and predict deals and by UN investigators investigating arms embargo violations.
Previously Elon Musk indicated that he would not ban the account following his private jet, however after the stalker altercation he appears to have rapidly changed his tune. Even without the Twitter bot, private jets can easily be tracked via ADS-B Exchange so any dedicated person could still gather this information without too much hassle. So it seems likely that legal action will be taken against ADS-B Exchange as per Elon's tweet. Other ADS-B data aggregators like FlightRadar24 and FlightAware should be safe from legal action as they do censor private aircraft upon request. Hopefully ADS-B exchange has prepared for this legal battle, which was probably an inevitable unfortunate outcome from their policy. If not from private jet owners, then the military or police would likely eventually take action if the data ever became a problem.