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ADS-B Exchange Sells Up, Contributors Unhappy

In the news among aviation enthusiasts, the ADS-B data aggregation and aircraft tracking site ADSB-Exchange has been sold by its founder to JETNET for a reported $20m. This type of routine financial news is more at home in the business media than on, but in this case there’s something a little different at play. ADS-B Exchange is a community driven site whose data comes from thousands of enthusiasts worldwide connecting their ADS-B receivers to its feed API. The sale to a commercial flight data company has not gone down well with this community who are unsurprisingly unimpressed that their free contributions to the website have been sold.

This certainly isn’t the first time a site built on community data has flipped into big business, and while it’s unclear whether JETNET will do a full CDDB and boot out anyone not paying to play, we can understand the users feeling that their work has been sold from under them. On the other hand, how many of us can truly claim their open source beliefs wouldn’t start to buckle once somebody slides a $20m check across the table?

It’s evidently too late for anyone aggrieved by their ADS-B data being sold, but perhaps there’s something else to think about here. We have an established way to recognize open source software in the many well-known software libre licences, but we don’t for crowd-sourced data. Perhaps it’s time for the open-source community to consider this problem and come up with something for future sites like ADS-B Exchange whatever field they may be in, a licence which clearly defines the open terms under which contributors provide the data and those under which site owners can use it. Otherwise we’ll be here again in a few years writing about another aggrieved community, and we think that doesn’t have to happen.