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Google Founders' Jets Caught On WSJ's Radar 427

Posted by samzenpus
from the break-out-the-list dept.
theodp writes "Via an FOIA request, the Wall Street Journal acquired records of every private aircraft flight recorded in the FAA's air-traffic management system for 2007 through 2010, using them to build a private jet tracker database. Among the high fliers who found their records unblocked were Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, whose 767 and Gulfstream reportedly burned an estimated 52,000 gallons of aviation fuel and $430,000 on two round-trips from the U.S. mainland to Tahiti to catch last summer's total eclipse of the sun. A Google spokeswoman confirmed the pair's jaunt, but added that Page and Brin mitigated the greenhouse gas emissions from their aircraft usage by purchasing an even greater amount of carbon offsets. Tech-boom billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban seemed unfazed by the prospect of his past plane movements becoming public: 'I have a plane,' Cuban quipped. 'I bought it so I could use it. Shocking, isn't it?'"
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Google Founders' Jets Caught On WSJ's Radar

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  • ... but if Google's founders can't fly to Tahiti to watch an astronomical event, then who can?

    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:08AM (#36215960)

      More to the point, this is a private person doing something privately with their earned fortune, its none of the WSJs business.

      • by CaptainLard (1902452) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:13AM (#36215988)
        True its none of our business. But since its out, if they were concerned enough to buy carbon offsets couldn't they have also "flight pooled"?
        • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:14AM (#36216000)

          They could have flown commercially if they were "concerned". But as Mark Cuban says, they bought a plane, why shouldn't they use it?

          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:27AM (#36216070)

            You don't need to get groped at the airport if you have your own private charter flight. That's got to be worth the cost of the plane right there.

            • by Neil Boekend (1854906) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:33AM (#36216100)
              It sounds like these private planes are an ideal weapon for terrorists! Ban them!
              • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:54AM (#36216262)

                Don't worry, they're trying. I don't know how far it's gotten but I recall hearing something a while back about the TSA and or Homeland Security trying to throw up all kinds of roadblocks to private aviation. One of them was requiring that every passenger on every private plane/jet (even two seater prop driven) have some kind of background check ran on them before every flight. It should be noted that the aviation fuel tax on small aircraft PAYS for a good chunk of the air traffic control system, which they don't massively use. However commercial aviation, which pays no fuel tax, uses the system intensely.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by tompaulco (629533)
                Kidding aside, immediately after the hijackers used COMMERCIAL JETS in the attacks on September 11th, ALL planes were grounded and the very LAST planes allowed back in the air were the ones were not then and have never been used in a terrorist attempt...private airplanes. However, private airplanes are a freedom that some people enjoy, and so therefore, if you believe the government, that freedom ought to be taken away.
            • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:49AM (#36216202) Homepage

              And this is why you can do private air flights even if you are an out of touch with reality filthy rich person...

              For the price of a commercial 1st class flight you can hop a ride on a charter corporate return flight. Detroit metro to JFK in 50 minutes on a learjet and it took me 15 minutes at the airport without getting groped.

              Smart flyers know how to find these kinds of deals and get around the TSA garbage. And the TSA would not dare to try and enforce their abuses at corporate hangars..

              • by TheLink (130905)

                For the price of a commercial 1st class flight

                Smart flyers know how to find these kinds of deals

                Smart flyers can also figure out why the rest of us fly budget/economy :(.

            • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:58AM (#36216296) Homepage Journal

              You don't need to get groped at the airport if you have your own private charter flight.

              And if you have your own private 767, you can get groped on the plane.

              If you catch my drift.

        • by Tweezer (83980) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:31AM (#36216090)

          They are probably not allowed to flight pool per Google policy. Many businesses have policies regarding key employees traveling together. This is in case of a crash or or other unfortunate event causing the death of the travelers on board. If the policy is written well, they probably aren't supposed to be in the same car train or bus either as those forms of transportation aren't as safe.

        • by Score Whore (32328) on Monday May 23, 2011 @10:19AM (#36217150)

          If they were concerned about the carbon footprint couldn't they have just bought the offsets and stayed home? Actually the whole idea of carbon offsets is just bullshit. I wonder if they worry about a new era Martin Luther who will show what a mockery their Indulgences really are?

          Even more to the point, how exactly is their whereabouts being tracked this way any different than their effort of tracking and selling the activities of every single person who ever uses the internet? Seems perfectly fine to me for them to have their travels publicized and mocked as appropriate.

      • by sa1lnr (669048)

        Maybe they should get an injunction? ;)

      • by kulnor (856639) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:40AM (#36216142)
        Ageer, this represents a serious breach of privacy. What would you think if your car location data would be publicly available? So anyone can basically know when/where you went? I have no problem if this you authorize to publish your data but not like this.
        • What would you think if your car location data would be publicly available?

          Cars? Heck, I want all of the call records out of the Google execs' homes and offices. The NSA has them.

          Signed,
          Bing Corporate Division

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        These are two people who spend a lot of time proclaiming that we should reduce our carbon footprint. This is in the same category of hypocrisy as the guy who proclaims that sex outside of marriage is wrong and is then caught sleeping with his secretary. If your position is that AGW is such a major problem as to justify spending trillions of dollars of other people's money to mitigate it, then you should not be jetting off to some island to view a solar eclipse.
        This type of behavior on the part of AGW prop
      • by gutnor (872759)
        They are filthy rich, they can buy anything that is for sale in this world, and, unfortunately, that includes pretty much everything including justice, political influence, ...

        The distorted power they have in the society should be balanced by a distorted amount of scrutiny. We are doing already so little of that nowadays that even something as insignificant as what the WSJ is valuable.

      • by Stellian (673475)

        this is a private person doing something privately with their earned fortune

        Air space is a limited public good, and using it opens you to public inspection. It's the air space above MY lawn you are using. Even if the info was not available before, there's nothing immoral in releasing it, and the expectation for privacy is unreasonable in the context. You can make use your earned fortune in the privacy of your own property just fine.

        • Now apply all of that logic to the public road network. Still think it applies? How about mobile phone signals and the public airwaves?

    • by captainpanic (1173915) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:38AM (#36216132)

      ... but if Google's founders can't fly to Tahiti to watch an astronomical event, then who can?

      Google (as a company) is doing quite a lot for the development and implementation of sustainable energy, and the guys (as private persons) even seem to plant some trees (or something) to compensate for the fuel they burn.

      I think that if you want to accuse Google of something evil, it has to be on the privacy front, not the pollution part. So, I think it's reasonable to be apologetic.

    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:43AM (#36216158)

      They bought their indulgences (carbon credits) from The Church of Global Warming. Their sins are forgiven.

      Look, stupid new religions based on politics and pseudo-half-science I can abide, but I won't tolerate hypocrisy: if the Google boys put sufficient money in the collection plate, they should be cut sufficient slack. The consequences of indiscretion, today as in the Middle Ages, should only be for the poor...

  • Who wouldn't? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Superken7 (893292) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:08AM (#36215962) Journal

    So who of us would not fly every now and then on a private plane in order to travel through the world? Isn't this also the case for many polititians, especially "important" ones?
    Honestly, I would do it.

  • Mark Cuban (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kamiza Ikioi (893310) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:10AM (#36215972) Homepage

    ... summed it up brilliantly. This is like someone discovering Google Maps for the first time and spying on the backyards of the wealthy. Nothing of real interest here except the obvious, "Why is the WSJ so interested in tracking private citizens given the fact that it was FREAKING out over 'privacy' issues, like *gasp* ad companies track people, and the fact that it is conservative, and isn't that all about personal freedom, 'don't take mah gun, git yer camera outta my backyard'?"

    • This is just another news item for the tabloids. Nothing new, except that nobody ever got the flight records yet.
      Next week the same media will report on another party by Paris Hilton, most likely.

    • by fafaforza (248976)

      I bet you don't even read the WSJ, but cast judgement all the same.

      And analyzing flight plans of planes that report it to a government entity is no more an invasion of privacy than my mortgage info and home address being a matter of public record.

      And guess what, newspapers investigate. That's what they do. Sometimes they find interesting stuff. Sometimes they'll see that an environmentalist like Al Gore is using the energy of 5 households for ambient lighting on his estate. Isn't showing hypocrisy like

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:14AM (#36215994)

    ...and NOT because they used their jet.

    "A Google spokeswoman confirmed the pair's jaunt, but added that Page and Brin mitigated the greenhouse gas emissions from their aircraft usage by purchasing an even greater amount of carbon offsets."

    I lost respect for them because they subscribe to ManBearPig's farcical religion that tells them they can cleanse themselves of their environmental sins if they purchase carbon indulgences. The whole notion of carbon indulgences is fucking retarded. It's not as if their jet left a trail of elemental carbon floating in the atmosphere for all eternity. It likely produced some carbon-containing pollutants - but guess what also does... BREATHING! Every living organism contains carbon, so the idea of somehow trying to "offset" it is nonsense. They probably bought their indulgences from one of those companies that burns down forests in South America just so they can have some land to plant trees on to assuage the self-inflicted angst and guilt of rich white liberal Americans.

    Props to Mark Cuban for not being a pussy about using HIS jet.

    • by s_p_oneil (795792)

      While I agree that props go to Mark Cuban and that carbon offsets are ludicrous, I didn't really lose respect for Page and Brin. They didn't make the statement personally, a Google spokeswoman did, and a Google spokeswoman wouldn't dare be blunt about something like this. Besides, I'm sure Page and Brin have been harassed by green nuts in the past. Their wealth and fame would make them irresistible targets to all sorts of nut-jobs. If they can't use a small part of their vast fortune to keep nut-jobs from h

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:46AM (#36216172)

      The carbon-containing pollutant you're thinking of is jet exhaust. You burn jet fuel, and carbon from the hydrocarbons in the fuel combines with oxygen.

      "Breathing" does not take carbon sequestered in the earth and vent it into the atmosphere. Burning petroleum, however, does do this.

      That said, I agree that carbon indulgences are bullshit. If you actually give a shit, then consume less. If you don't actually give a shit, then man up and say so, like Mark Cuban did.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:17AM (#36216006)

    What a useless "Ooooh, lookie, I can feel good about myself now!!!" scam.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      So you only spend your money on things that make your feel terrible about yourself?

      Pretty much everything I spend my "disposable income" on (i.e. not paying the bills...) is stuff that makes me feel good or feel good about myself. Or that I think will make others feed good. Actually pretty much everything I do is attempts to make myself feel good or to allow me to do other things that make me feel good.

      You just spend your whole life feeling miserable I take it?

    • In theory carbon offsets are a good system - however in practice they're a scam due to lack of oversight.

  • Well done Mark (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lorenlal (164133) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:19AM (#36216016)

    Mr. Cuban, I will probably never even desire my own jet, and I feel like that if you are flying you really should use commercial. But I appreciate the fact that you call it like you see it. I'm glad to see you just own it and go with it.

    I'm not as big a fan of the "carbon credits." I understand that these credits go towards promoting carbon reduction, but the system pretty much dictates "I'm rich, so I can buy my morality. See, when you have enough money, you don't need to reduce usage. You just pay others to clean up for you."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aquitaine (102097)

      "I'm rich, so I can buy my morality. See, when you have enough money, you don't need to reduce usage. You just pay others to clean up for you."

      You are suggesting that it is immoral to burn fuel. Or, rather, to burn fuel for a purpose that you (or somebody?) doesn't approve of, or doesn't deem important enough.

      It isn't. You're free to disapprove of it, and you're free to tell yourself that Google's founders are going to murder the planet because they flew to Tahiti, but that's got nothing to do with morality.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Burning oil creates pollution. There is no getting away from that, burning stuff produces waste. Not just CO2, but soot as well.

        Burning oil needlessly has a negative affect on everyone and cannot be morally justified. The question is at what point is the cut-off? Most of us burn oil for pleasure travelling and find that acceptable, but that doesn't mean that rich individuals should have license to pollute as much as they like and not feel guilty.

      • "I'm rich, so I can buy my morality. See, when you have enough money, you don't need to reduce usage. You just pay others to clean up for you."

        I think a jet for the rich is like a car for the middle class.

        You can't really suggest they are killing the planet without being a hypocrite unless you use public transportation for everything.

        Yeah, public transportation doesn't work well for everyone's schedules, but neither does commercial aviation for corporations. If a CEO wants to be in Tahiti, Korea, D.C., or NYC in a matter of hours - commercial might not work.

      • by dzfoo (772245)

        No. He is suggesting that people like Sergey Brin and Larry Page believe it to be immoral to burn fuel, and so feel compelled to purchase carbon credits to absolve their sins and remove their own guilt.

                    -dZ.

      • by dachshund (300733)

        You are suggesting that it is immoral to burn fuel. Or, rather, to burn fuel for a purpose that you (or somebody?) doesn't approve of, or doesn't deem important enough.

        It isn't. You're free to disapprove of it, and you're free to tell yourself that Google's founders are going to murder the planet because they flew to Tahiti, but that's got nothing to do with morality.

        There's a large and increasing body evidence that burning large amounts of fossil fuel is warming the planet, which in turn will cause oceans

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jonpublic (676412)

      This reminds me of what the church used to do, which was sell indulgences to the rich so they didn't have to pray or spend as much time earning forgiveness. Everyone else had to pay the full penance. It was one of the reasons Martin Luther started the protestant revolution.

      Except this time it's not the church, but some business selling forgiveness in the eyes of the public. Who knows what the money is actually used for.

    • Re:Well done Mark (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Stellian (673475) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:49AM (#36216212)

      I'm rich, so I can buy my morality

      Well, that's exactly how it should go. Given a certain level of wealth division in a society, the rich should be forced to pay their (higher) externalities. I consume more of nature's limited resources, you consume less, but we are created equal so I pay you for the privilege. The price of a certain resource caries important information into the market, and it allows the market to allocate it efficiently.
      If we agree the capacity of the ecosphere to absorb carbon dioxide is limited, with potential disastrous effects when exceeded, then we need to efficiently make use of the available margin. A method to accomplish that is via carbon caps or taxes, as opposed to 'just own it and go with it' method you propose, i.e a land-grab (resource-grab) by those in the best position to grab it (having the largest SUV, private jet, yacht etc.) despite having a no more legitimate claim on said resource than the average bushman or eskimo.

  • by mdarksbane (587589) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:25AM (#36216060)

    I mean, the rich have privacy rights, too. Why the hell should everywhere they fly be made public?

    • Just imagine if general transport (cars etc) were logged and released under FOIA...

      Why is this any different?

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      How about some journalist uses this FOIA to get logs of commercial flights? And with that I mean passenger logs? When you fly within, to, or from the US, almost anything they know about you is given to the US government. Names, passport numbers, credit card details, hotel details, etc. etc. Everything. This is logged somewhere for sure - otherwise the exercise is quite useless. A single piece of information doesn't tell much; many pieces of information allow for data mining. Who traveled where? Travel compa

    • by houghi (78078)

      Google Maps is seen as breaking privacy by some as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sootman (158191)

      "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

      Google CEO Eric Schmidt to CNBC, December 2009 [slashdot.org]

  • by ebonum (830686) on Monday May 23, 2011 @08:29AM (#36216078)

    I know these guys are rich, but this seems crazy. They are using their own private vehicles.

    If the government allows this, what next? Listing every license plate through all the toll booths? What about the release of all the vehicular movement from the tracking devices in lower Manhattan? Private citizens should have some right not to be publicly tracked.

    What about GPS tracking of cars for mileage taxation. If that ever happens, why shouldn't that data be released just like the airplane data.

    • What about GPS tracking of cars for mileage taxation. If that ever happens, why shouldn't that data be released just like the airplane data.

      That is a very good question and part of the reason that I don't see any good reason for GPS tracking of cars, for any reason (except in special cases with a warrant). Perhaps it has never occured to you that the goal of those proposals is GPS tracking of cars, not the mileage taxation. The mileage taxation is just an excuse to install GPS tracking in all vehicles.

  • ...without these guys.

    Okay, maybe not a screeching halt, but it'd get the wind knocked out of it (again). In the 60s, you could buy plane for a little more than a car cost; now a new 2-seat trainer will set you back at least $110k. Dozens of aviation companies sprung up from the 40s to the 60s, and even in 1980 we still had over 800,000 pilots in the US; today that number is under 600,000 [wikipedia.org].

    I spoke to a guy a few weeks ago who learned to fly in the late 70s and rented most of the planes he flew for $30-ish an hour. I just finished my private pilot cert and the cheapest plane around here (Lehigh Valley, PA) is about $86/hr, +$30 with the instructor. Aviation gas is about $6/gallon.

    Small airports and flight schools don't make a lot of money teaching guys like me on two- or four-seat trainers, just like airplane companies don't make a lot of money selling them (Cessna even stopped production for a decade or so in the 80s). One of the few remaining markets with any margins left is business jets. I get that journalists can stir up populist outrage by talking about jaunts to Tahiti, but what would you rather rich people do with their money? Keep it? Spoil their kids with it? They're keeping pilots and airport attendants in their jobs, and if you're upset about the amount of fuel burned for such a frivolous adventure, well, the only way we're going to get better fuels and more efficient engines is if the people making them have money to invest in those things.

    • You forgot inflation ...

      $30 in 1978 dollars is $103 in 2011 dollars, so in reality you're paying significantly LESS than what he was if you're paying $86/hr.

      The costs of new aircraft have increased at greater than the rate of inflation (a 172K in 1969 cost about $13,000 - or $86,000 in 2011 dollars, a modern C172 is significantly more even after you take into account the much higher equipment level a modern C172 has). But even then $13,000 was significantly more expensive than a car unless you're talking of a high end luxury Mercedes Benz. In the 1960s the planes available for "little more than the cost of a car" would be older, used aircraft - just like today.

      A lot of the increase in costs for making planes came from the removal of certain tax breaks, IIRC. Also we can probably blame liability lawyers, too. Cessna actually restarted production because of the limitation put in to how long they were liable for an airframe to 18 years, instead of forever as it was before. (Cessna were getting sued when pilots did things like run out of fuel, or fly VFR into IMC and other things not remotely their fault).

      If you think it's expensive in the US, then you should come over here some time. I spend $86/hr in *fuel alone* in my own aircraft, and it's only got an O-320 engine! Then I have to pay for insurance, oil, maintenance, repairs on top of that!

    • by Stellian (673475)

      So you promote private jets because it provides the likes of you with employment ? Oh, the fallacy of "job creation".
      How about if keep your pay-check but instead of piloting you can mow some rich dude's lawn, and the copious resources wasted for giving him an incremental comfort over business class be employed for, you know, vaccines or irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa ?

  • Maybe they can get Lockheed to make them a private stealth airplane...

  • by m0s3m8n (1335861)
    Does this seem a bit hypocritical (at least perceived). I really don't care what they do with their money but this seems counter to their support of Anthropomorphic Global Warming. Oh sure they bought some carbon credits, but since the credits are a traded commodity, their extravagance resulted in higher prices for others seeking the same credits (supply-demand curve). Therefore, since others may not have purchased those credits due to the higher price, no overall benefit was realized. It seems to me tha
    • by rotide (1015173)
      You could take the bus instead of driving your own car. Just a thought. Go commercial buddy, stop taking private transport!
  • #1: the COSTS of fossil fuel use is socialized. that we all suffer for the burning of fossil fuels. while true, it's not a matter of jet exhaust being piped directly into your bedroom, it is much more abstract and complicated, and not a matter for great anger, unless you are a hysterical person

    #2: that there is hypocrisy with the upper middle class and upper classes. they often are the greatest proponents of green living, while paradoxically being the greatest creators of pollution with their lifestyles. ag

  • We can track their private aircraft locations. Great. Now if we can only track their email correspondences, web searches, cell phone locations and browsing history we can start to know as much about them as they know about us peasants.
  • by limaxray (1292094) on Monday May 23, 2011 @09:27AM (#36216572) Homepage
    I work in aviation and privacy is a big concern for some of our customers. Sometimes its for security concerns (the richer you are, the more people who want to make a mask with your face) and other times its for PR reasons (it doesn't look good when a company fires a few thousand employees in the name of cutting costs and then turns around and picks up a few new G550s - even though the new aircraft will save them money in the long run).

    What these guys usually do is operate under a pseudonym. I don't know the full mechanics of it, but we regularly have customers with bogus names operating under bogus corporations. They get paint schemes totally devoid of any company logos or color schemes and doing a tail number search yields meaningless results. We know who they are, but on lookers, like in this case, will be totally in the dark.

    Famous people usually don't care. While most celebrities can't even afford to look at a private jet, those that can often get their names painted all over the side of their aircraft as if saying 'look at the size of my penis!' The point being, if they want to be private, they can, but it seems these guys just don't care.

    Now that isn't to say that they should have to go out of their way to maintain privacy. The FAA logs and keeps way too much information on these guys to the point it is downright scary. Of course, the relative safety of air travel has a lot to do with the strict controls of the FAA, but none the less, they need to be more concerned with privacy - if not for the sake of the VIPs, then for the safety of the couple dozen technicians and crew members maintaining and operating the aircraft.
  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Monday May 23, 2011 @12:46PM (#36218848)

    'I have a plane,' Cuban quipped. 'I bought it so I could use it. Shocking, isn't it?'

    That was just awesome. As far as google goes they have a right to do whatever they want but don't at the same time expect anyone to think Google is somehow different or less 'evil' than any other large corporation. How rediculous the following 60 minutes piece seems today.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/12/30/60minutes/main664063.shtml [cbsnews.com]

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