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According to Elon Musk:

My plane is actually not trackable without using non-public data

This is a part of an ongoing controversy surrounding the bans on accounts posting the location of his private jet.

Can the location of said jet be obtained using public data alone?

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    For mods/close-voters: there's hundreds of news articles on the subject at the moment, so this is definitely a notable question. Dec 16, 2022 at 20:02
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    Also note the question is specific to the aeroplane, not the owner.
    – Criggie
    Dec 17, 2022 at 6:12

3 Answers 3

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Musk should be enrolled in the PIA program.

But as mentioned in this article, it looks like they're using past behaviours to track him.

From the article:

It’s a laborious process, and codes cannot be changed more than once every 60 days. This means they can be of limited utility, since astute observers might be able to use other clues to figure out an aircraft owner’s identify. Musk takes part in the PIA program, so some of his supporters have argued that Sweeney isn’t using publicly available information. But his plane’s well-known past behavior was a dead giveaway. “Elon Musk, for example, has a Gulfstream and there’s only so many people that fly that particular plane out of Brownsville,” Sweeney told the website Insider.

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    Yeah I think this is the real crux of the matter. The info is public, but maintaining track takes dedicated effort. Though it's probably not hard. I imagine the old code vanishes and poof, a brand new code appears, on the same type of plane at the same location, so it's obvious enough what just happened.
    – JamieB
    Dec 19, 2022 at 15:27
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    All of the information that is being used is publicly available. Just because some work has to be done to connect it all doesn’t mean that it isn’t publicly available.
    – Joe W
    Dec 19, 2022 at 16:20
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    @GOATNine if someone uses their real name on Stackoverflow and you find their real address by piecing together multiple bits of public information, is it perfectly acceptable to publish it for everyone to see? Dec 20, 2022 at 20:12
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    @GOATNine Elon Musk's personal location is private information, doxxed via the public location of his vehicle.
    – Andy Gee
    Dec 20, 2022 at 21:51
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    @AndyGee perhaps I wasn't clear enough, so let me clarify again. The public, consistent release of data that is publicly filed with the FAA, even with malicious intent, is not doxxing. The data released is not private. Your inference that the jets flight plans are equivalent to Musk's location at a given moment are not correct, because it is not a certainty that he will be on the jet, and he certainly won't remain with the jet after landing. That's like arguing that the media doxxes the president every time they announce a speech venue.
    – GOATNine
    Dec 20, 2022 at 23:51
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Yes, it does appear to be trackable with only publicly available data and it appears that Elon Musk is making various requests to make it harder to track his flights.

Reddit now has a subreddit entirely dedicated to tracking Elon Musk’s jet

The start of the article mentions a program he applied to that makes it harder to track his flights.

Elon Musk has banned the Twitter accounts of the app that tracked his jet, the creator of that app and several high-profile reporters who covered the story. He has even, apparently, applied for a new FAA program, which makes it harder to track his plane.

The ADS-B Exchange is a public site to track flights all around the world and it is my understanding that a lot of journalists use it when they need to track flights.

Musk has long disliked ElonJet tracker, which uses publicly available data gathered from ADS-B exchange, a larger hobbyist site that assembles publicly available data from the transponders of different aircraft. However, he promised when he took over Twitter that he would not ban the account, in the name of free speech.

As a side note while it isn't relevant to the question about tracking planes it seems this reaction came after Musk thought a stalker went after a vehicle that his two year old son was in. (Whether there was indeed a stalker is unclear.)

On Wednesday, Musk alleged a car carrying his two-year-old son X was followed by a “crazy stalker (thinking it was me)” on Dec. 13, who blocked and climbed on the hood of one of the vehicles. He followed up the allegation by saying that he was would take legal action against Jack Sweeney, creator of the app and a freshman at the University of Central Florida. Suspensions of several journalists’ Twitter accounts soon followed.

More on ADS-B Exchange

ADS-B Exchange rightfully calls itself “the world’s largest source of unfiltered flight data.” The key word is “unfiltered,” meaning that the site relies on ADS-B signals and does not filter out information about US aircraft that have requested anonymity through the US government, which makes it attractive to journalists. As the only tracking service to do this, ADS-B Exchange has proved to be a disruptive force in the tracking industry since it was started by US pilot Dan Streufert. Billing itself a cooperative, ADS-B Exchange relies on a worldwide community of more than 2,000 people who send in real-time MLAT and ADS-B data. This is uploaded on a searchable website. It’s free for non-commercial use (contributions requested). Commercial users are required to license the data.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jamiec
    Dec 22, 2022 at 10:42
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Musk's jet operates comercially, and registers its flight plans, which are a matter of public record in the US (Source). His jet also uses a transponder which broadcasts on a publicly available channel ("All planes have to have a transponder which shows their locations, so the information is public", The Independent).

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    @JoeW: I've added the only sentence from the paywalled article that pertains to the transponder, but it's really not a strong source. This answer would benefit from a more substantial reference for the claim the channel on which the transponder information is broadcast is indeed publicly available.
    – Schmuddi
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:23
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    @wizzwizz4 a better analogy is that you're yelling in a foreign language to your friend over on the other side of a public space. should you have an expectation of privacy? of course not, anyone that knows that language could easily listen in. Dec 19, 2022 at 0:38
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    if you think ALL aircraft have their location publicly available, think again. Military and other government aircraft can turn off transponders (or not have them at all) or have the signals spoofed (aircraft ID for ADS-B randomised for example). I know one person who's on the diplomatic corps and their jets are so equipped.
    – jwenting
    Dec 19, 2022 at 8:00
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    @AaarghZombies: I'm not an aviation expert. While I do know that planes have transponders, I assume that for military planes, the information is not publicly available. But if the transponder information can be concealed for military planes, what about government planes (e.g. Air Force One)? Does it have a transponder? Is it publicly available? No idea. But if transponder information of government planes can be concealed, why not take it a step further and allow that for celebrity planes as well if they want that? This is very much different from "water is wet", at least in my book.
    – Schmuddi
    Dec 21, 2022 at 9:07
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    @Schmuddi AF1 is by definition a military aircraft. It's the callsign used by whichever USAF aircraft carries the president. If you mean Executive 1, which would be a non-military aircraft carrying the president, it would have its transponder and flight plans non-public, you'd not be able to find it on places like Flightradar 24. ADS-B would show it as something non-descript, probably randomised (I'm sure there's a category of codes used for unlisted aircraft that they can use, as well as diplomatic flights).
    – jwenting
    Dec 21, 2022 at 13:34

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