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We know the score: you plug in your smart device, install some 3rd-party app to get it set up then control it via Google/IFTTT/whatever.

But behind the scenes what goes on in terms of traffic? I was told that all these devices rely on having their own server running. You command Google, Google interfaces with the device's home server, that server talks to your device.

Is this correct? I mean there's the whole can of worms about passing everything through Google anyway, but this makes me nervous all these devices are 100% reliant on some random company running their server. Such companies often fold or rebrand and are not known for longevity.

Have I misunderstood? I can live with reliance on Google because I doubt they are going anywhere!

  • @jsotola I've simplified the title. New to IoT, if you'd care to expand in an answer? – Mr. Boy Oct 27 at 16:54
  • the main reason, for using off-site server to control the device, is that your home LAN cannot be accessed from the internet without some configuration changes to the router and the installation of an IOT gateway device for the devices – jsotola Oct 27 at 16:57
  • @jsotola sure, it makes sense things bounce via Google/Amazon/Apple. But are we really saying each on my plugs involves some random server in Shenzen or wherever? – Mr. Boy Oct 27 at 17:01
  • take a smart bulb as an example ... i am no expert in this, but i think that you can find bulbs that can be hacked easily for your own purposes ... i think that i have seen some that are controlled directly, without going to the internet – jsotola Oct 27 at 17:02
  • i think that you can check your router logs to see where the plugs connect – jsotola Oct 27 at 17:03
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Yes, for the most part both Amazon and Google require that the Hardware vendor run a service that supports their specific API that the Voice Assistant systems can call.

For Amazon you have to provide a AWS Lambda function as the interface and Google require a HTTP API endpoint.

There are some exceptions to these rules, e.g. Amazon support direct control of Belkin WeMo devices, but I believe they are removing this capability and migrating over to the same system of making an API call.

The other standard is ZigBee lights, with some Alexa devices having built in ZigBee radios providing direct control.

Google devices tend to support the Thread system (since this was what NEST used before Goolge bought them)

Google also support something called their Local Control SDK which allow the direct control from the local Google Home device directly to the device, but this still requires the cloud service as both a back up command route and device discovery and state are still all done via the vendors cloud service.

It's also worth pointing out that the Hardware vendors also want to run their own systems a lot of the time. It allows them to gather all sorts of useful data about how customers use their hardware (e.g. if features are actually getting used or not) and to do fault/failure analysis. Neither Amazon or Google will let them see any of that data.

Apple's Homekit system is the exception in that all control is local and each device has to be locally discoverable and controllable by implementing Apples API on your local network.

Things are starting to change as there is now a consortium made up of Amazon, Apple, Google and a bunch of IoT device manufactures to try and build a standard control protocol for doing local control. (https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/18/21027890/apple-google-amazon-smart-home-standard-zigbee-connected-ip-project)

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  • So all these early adopters who bought expensive IoT things like fridges are at real risk the smart part will just stop working, irredeemably, if the manufacturer turns the server off? Ouch. – Mr. Boy Oct 27 at 20:48
  • Lots already have (e.g. Belkin totally walked away from their smart lighting system more than 5 years ago) – hardillb Oct 27 at 20:49
  • i read that a lot of IOT devices either do not have a mechanism to renew security certificates or the owners of the devices do not bother to do the renewal ... the end result, for something like a smart nulb, is that it can no longer be controlled – jsotola Oct 28 at 20:30

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