“There are countries we can no longer go to,” Stanford says of himself and a core team of executives.
In recent years, the Saudi government has tried to get international aviation regulators to ban or prevent the public dissemination of ADS-B data, though that proposal has not gotten very far. On the other hand, Musk has threatened legal action against those who share the location of his private jet.
Stanford says their stance has always been to oppose censorship, regardless of the reason. “How do you make that decision, that one person is good and the other is bad?” he says.
Being independent and decentralized has brought significant benefits. Stanford says they have been approached by law enforcement and the US military to monitor for gaps in government-owned systems. “There have been accidents in Arizona where we had better data than the FAA,” he says.
When hosting and server costs ran into the tens of thousands of dollars, ADS-B Exchange turned to commercialization to cover costs. While free to use, the website sells ads and offers paid access to the full range of data for flying enthusiasts and commercial customers.
“It got so big and expensive that we had to commercialize it somehow,” says Stanford. Even then, he adds, ADS-B Exchange is a fraction of the price of its competitors.
Sales have increased significantly in recent years, says Stanford. “Our plan was to run it until we can quit our full-time jobs, and run it until we retire.” But as revenues skyrocket, ADS-B Exchange has a core problem with the organization. “It’s owned by one person,” he says.
Last month, when the site made headlines for being banned from Twitter, rumors circulated that Dan Streufert, the site’s founder and sole owner, was planning to sell the website to Jetnet. It led to unrest among the administrators who were kept out of the discussions.
“My fear has always been that someone comes in and destroys everything we’ve built,” says Stanford.
Stanford told WIRED in December that if a deal goes through, ADS-B Exchange users would revolt. When the press release went out Wednesday morning, he was leading the mutiny.
Shortly after the deal went public, Streufert was removed from the Discord as the site’s users pondered their next move. “ADSBexchange.com is done,” Stanford wrote to his fellow users, before posting instructions on how to disconnect from the website’s network. Many followed those instructions, and some turned to smaller alternatives, such as Airframes.
“We were 11,000 [feeders]we are now at 9,500 in the space of 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, wrote on Mastodon after announcing the acquisition. His attempts to track a series of private jets, including those of the CEO of Tesla and Twitter, relied on ADS-B Exchange. “If you feed ADSBexchange, we encourage you to stop feeding. ADSBExchange is based on the principles of nonprofit hobbyist community PE companies.”