“There are countries we can no longer travel to,” Stanford says of himself and the core admin team.
In recent years, the Saudi Arabian government has tried to push international aviation regulators to ban or prevent the public distribution of ADS-B data, although the proposal has not gone far. Musk, on the other hand, has threatened legal action against those who shared the location of his private jet.
Stanford says their stance has always been to oppose any kind of censorship, no matter the reason. “How do you decide that one person is good and the other is bad?” He says.
Independence and decentralization bring significant benefits. Stanford says law enforcement and the U.S. military contacted them to provide surveillance on where there were gaps in government systems. “There were accidents in Arizona for which we had better data than the FAA,” he says.
As the cost of hosting and servers reached tens of thousands of dollars, ADS-B Exchange moved to commercialization to cover its costs. While it is free to use, the website sells ads and offers paid access to the full data set for flying enthusiasts and commercial customers.
“It got so big and expensive that we had to somehow commercialize it,” says Stanford. Even so, he adds, the cost of ADS-B Exchange is several times lower than that of competitors.
Revenue has increased significantly in recent years, Stanford said. “Our plan was to run it until we could quit our full-time job and run it before we retire.” But as revenue grew, ADS-B Exchange faced a major organizational problem. “It belongs to one person,” he says.
Last month, when the site was banned from Twitter, there were rumors that Dan Streufert, the site’s founder and sole owner, was planning to sell the site to Jetnet. This caused alarm among the administrators, who remained on the sidelines of the discussions.
“I was always afraid that someone would come along and destroy everything we had built,” says Stanford.
Stanford told WIRED in December that if the deal went through, ADS-B Exchange users would revolt. When the press release came out Wednesday morning, he led a mutiny.
Shortly after the deal went public, Streifert was removed from Discord as the site’s users pondered their next move. “ADSBexchange.com is finished,” Stanford wrote to fellow users before posting instructions on how to disconnect from the website. Many have followed these instructions and some have switched to smaller alternatives such as Gliders.
“We were 11,000 [feeders]we reached 9500 in a few hours,” says Stanford.
“Today is a sad day,” Jack Sweeney, who ran the @ElonJet Twitter account that earned him legal threats from Musk himself, tweeted on Mastodon after the acquisition was announced. His efforts to track a number of private aircraft, including those of Tesla and the CEO of Twitter, relied on the ADS-B Exchange. “If you are feeding ADSBexchange, we recommend that you stop feeding. ADSBExchange was founded on the principles of a community of amateur, non-profit PE firms.”