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Taylor Swift complains of private jet privacy; Elon Musk and NBAA weigh in

A NOTE ABOUT THIS PHOTO: This is not Taylor Swift, nor is it a portrayal of Taylor Swift. We asked AI to generate a photo of a woman spying on a private jet, and this is what it gave us. While it seems like the whole world is talking about whether music superstar Taylor Swift can make it from a concert in Tokyo on Saturday to Las Vegas in time for Super Bowl Sunday, all thanks to the power of a private jet, the first guy who could probably tell us in real-time of whether she actually does has gotten a letter from Swift's lawyers. If you are a fan of both celebrity culture and private aviation, then you probably have heard of Jack Sweeney. He is the college student who gained fame by building a bot to tweet out Elon Musk's aircraft movements, only to later be banned from Musk's social media platform for doing so. Sweeney, using ADS-B aircraft tracking data, also did the same for the aircraft of Russian oligarchs as well as other politicians and celebrities. However, his most recent target is perhaps the most famous person in America right now, Taylor Swift. Her legal team recently sent him a cease and desist notice. Others ranging from Musk himself and the NBAA are weighing in as, in timely fashion, the FAA has expanded its capability to mask such data. Why Taylor Swift does not want her jets tracked and how it is done According to multiple media reports, Swift's team argues that the only reason anyone would want real-time location information on her jet is to "to stalk, harass, and exert dominion and control." "While this may be a game to you, or an avenue that you hope will earn you wealth or fame, it is a life-or-death matter for our client," the letter reportedly said. ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) transponders allow everything from air traffic control and other aircraft to know a plane's location. The technology, now around two decades old, aims to improve aviation security and safety. Individuals and companies use the data to track everything from industry flight activity to the accuracy of commercial airline departure and arrival times. The FAA has worked on modifications to better ensure privacy since, but loopholes remain. There are exemptions through the FAA, known as a PIA (Privacy ICAO Address), launched in 2020. This allows those whose requests are approved to mask their aircraft's ADS-B identity by using a proxy aircraft identifier. In theory, anyone using the PIA can hide their aircraft from anyone other than authorities. However, Sweeney's bots compare the data to other publicly available information to basically crack the code and remove the mask. It's one subject where Musk and Swift agree Musk famously offered Sweeney $5,000 to stop tracking his aircraft, with the business tycoon telling the then-19-year-old in 2021, "I don't love the idea of being shot by a nutcase." Sweeney counter-offered by requesting that Musk give him a Tesla. However, Elon instead bought Twitter and shut down his account, only to later allow him to post the info on a 24-hour delay. Platforms owned by Meta and other social media rivals have followed suit, but the internet is going to internet and Sweeney has found other places to get the message out. In regard to Swift's case, Musk did not mince words. "Sweeney is an awful human being," he posted on his platform, now known as X, on Tuesday. "Taylor Swift is right to be concerned." RELATED STORIES:PIA privacy program no match for teen tracking Elon Musk's Gulfstream on Twitter through ADS-B data Teen who tracked Elon Musk's jet now targeting Russian oligarchs on Twitter through ADS-B data College student tracking Elon Musk's jet moves to Threads, faces another suspensionWhat the NBAA says about private jet privacy The industry advocacy group NBAA (National Business Aviation Association) has long hailed how ADS-B technology can improve the industry, but it has also cautioned that privacy concerns must be addressed. Dan Hubbard, senior vice president of communications for the agency, told USA Today this week that technological advances often come with "unintended outcomes" such as this. "What you're seeing, then, is this kind of tracking, this kind of flight stalking, which really is problematic on several levels," he said. During a 2022 safety summit on the issue, Doug Carr, NBAA senior vice president for safety, security, sustainability and international operations referred to the approach to improve the system as slapping on a bandage rather than replacing a knee. "We know where the weaknesses in the system are," he said. "From a security perspective, knowing there's a weakness can help operators think through mitigations that can be put in place to minimize problems." What the FAA is doing to improve privacy in aviation Programs such as PIA and LADD (Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed) have worked to improve loopholes to balance the needs between privacy and security. Unrelated to the woes of Musk and Swift, the FAA announced on Tuesday it is expanding the PIA program to include some offshore and Gulf of Mexico routes beyond 12 nautical miles offshore. "We applaud the FAA for their efforts to expand the PIA program and work with the industry to ensure we continue to enhance the program," said Heidi Williams, NBAA senior director, air traffic services and infrastructure. "Some operators have a legitimate security need to ensure privacy and this new policy is a welcome change for those operators." NBAA brought the request for more widespread PIA applicability in early 2020, and continually worked with the agency to ensure the program's successful expansion. Examples of new applicability of the PIA program, provided by the FAA, include domestic flights over the Gulf of Mexico and to Hawaii. Other flights, such as between Tokyo and Las Vegas, would not be available. For now, it appears that Swift was more successful than Musk and others of getting Sweeney to file a different flight plan for his tracking operation. Bezinga reported on Thursday that Sweeney said that his accounts tracking Swift on platforms including Meta had been shut down, but that other accounts remain live. He believes that was the work of the singer-songwriter's attorneys. In the wake of Swift's rift with Sweeney, it was reported that she had sold her Dassault Falcon 900. However, she may very well be looking to get into an ultra-long-range jet that could better handle such lengthy city-pairs. At the least, do not expect her to give up jet-setting anytime soon. In the meantime, as she seeks more privacy, she could just count on Travis Kelce to set a couple of blocks for her. Perhaps he could reduce her ADS-B signature to just a "Blank Space."
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