Smart lighting stalwart Philips Hue is making some more changes. After launching a new security system last month and finally making good on its promise to support Matter, the company is now requiring users to sign up for a Hue account to use its app.
For most people, this might not seem like a big deal; if you have Hue smart bulbs, you probably already have a Hue account, which has always been optional but lets you do things like connect the bulbs to platforms such as Amazon Alexa for voice control. But for some, the ability to use Hue’s line of smart lighting without creating an account was a big part of its appeal. Yes, its products are pricey, but you don’t have to give the company your data. That could be about to change.
According to Signify, the company that owns Phillips Hue, you will have to sign up for a Hue account by next year to use the Philips Hue app. You can do this by providing your email or by signing in with a third-party option, such as Sign in with Apple.
Some Hue users are understandably unhappy about what they see as a bait-and-switch move. “What makes me angry is that they are changing the way things are done after the fact,” Paulus Schoutsen, founder of open-source home automation platform Home Assistant, told The Verge. “It makes you question who owns your light bulb. If there were an account needed, a lot of our users wouldn’t have bought into the ecosystem.”
Why is this happening?
Signify has a page on its site with details on what benefits you get from an account, but I reached out to find out why this change was being made and exactly what it means for your devices and data.
Signify is doing this primarily for security, so you can see which applications, ecosystems, and users have access to control your Hue system, George Yianni, chief technology officer at Philips Hue, told me via email. With the current system, anyone with physical access to your Hue bridge can take it over just by pressing the button.
“We need a more robust way to identify the owner of the system and enable them to manage their system.”
“Up until this point, the mechanism we’ve used to identify who is the owner of the Hue system and can do this [control your bridge], is by physical access to the device — and pressing the button on the bridge,” says Yianni. “This approach is inadequate going forward, and we need a more robust way to identify the owner of the system and enable them to manage their system — the Hue account is how we will do this.”
The change is also to accommodate the new cameras and security system. “It allows us to manage the home composition in the backend, allowing us to have multiple devices inside a user home like we are doing now with Hue Secure cameras,” he says.
What does this mean for your Hue system?
Signing up for an account won’t change the way your system works. Yianni told me that users will still have full local control, and that control will continue to work fully offline. You can even remove internet connectivity once you've connected your account, but presumably, you won't get firmware updates until you reconnect.
You’ll be able to use multiple Hue bridges in the same home
“What we will over time change is that if you want to have an overview and to manage which applications and users have access to your Hue system, you will need to be logged into your account,” says Yianni.
He also said the account system means you’ll be able to use multiple Hue bridges in the same home without creating separate accounts for each one.
This is good news for people who have or plan to have more than 50 lights and accessories (the current limit on existing bridges), as it will make it easier to expand their system. If you have a large home, it’s relatively easy to go above that limit, especially if you add in outdoor lights and accessories like smart buttons and remotes.
What data will Signify / Hue now have access to?
“We do not require users share anything about how they use our products.”
However, in a change to the current policy, Yianni says Hue will not collect usage information from users without additional optional consent. “So, we do not require users share anything about how they use our products,” he says.
“Previously creating an account was consent for usage data processing that we are in the process of decoupling and will be decoupled before accounts become essential — that makes sure it’s possible to create an account without sharing usage data,” says Yianni. However, if you choose to use the cloud services for things like out-of-home connectivity, you will need an account, and Hue will process your data, he says.
Is there any way to use Hue products without using the Hue app?
If you don't want to sign up for an account, you can still circumnavigate the Hue app by directly integrating the bridge (and its connected accessories) into a platform such as Apple Home. However, that won’t be the case for long.
“The local APIs of the bridge (used by 3rd parties) and the HomeKit API will not be closed; however, we do intend over time that at least an owner account will need to be setup in order to open up and manage these local APIs,” says Yianni.
Matter support won’t help here, as you will need a Hue account to connect the bridge to Matter. “You will still need a Hue account to setup Matter, since we need to provide the user with an overview where they can manage all applications, users, ecosystems which have control over our products,” says Yianni. “The way we identify the owner of a Philips Hue system to provide this functionality is the Hue account — users can identify themselves with our social sign-on providers if they prefer.”
Using Hue with Matter still requires a Hue account
The other option is to enable direct integration of the bulbs to other Zigbee or Bluetooth hubs, such as an Echo smart speaker, the Aeotec SmartThings hub, or Home Assistant (its $124 Yellow hub has Zigbee, or you can add the SkyConnect dongle). In both of these cases, you lose the features of the Hue app, such as scenes and automations, but you can control the lights locally in your home with no cloud integration and no need to create an account.
For most users, the benefits of signing up for a Hue account and using the Hue app will outweigh any potential concerns around having a cloud component to their system, especially if Hue follows through on its promise not to share any data without additional consent; that’s more than a lot of smart home companies offer. But for those of you who don’t want the cloud as any part of your smart home, you may want to look at alternate options.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge