Alibaba has launched an internet-connected car, but I don’t want one

Alibaba has launched an internet-connected car, but I don’t want one
Credit: Alibaba

Chinese tech giant Alibaba has launched the OS’Car RX5, a rugged-looking SUV that’s connected to the internet and powered by the company’s YunOS, allowing it to offer passengers a host of futuristic features.

For starters, it can recognize the driver by their smartphone or smartwatch and customize things to suit them, such as music and navigation waypoints.

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It also boasts an intelligent map that offers location tracking and directions without the need for Wi-Fi or GPS services. Plus, the cabin is designed to be controlled primarily through voice commands.

YunOS for Cars

The RX5 also comes with three integrated screens for the dashboard and rearview mirror, and four action cameras to shoot 360-degree selfies inside the vehicle and to capture footage of your journeys.

It sounds great on paper – even more so when you consider that its starting price is a mere 99800 RMB ($14,930). So am I off my rocker for swearing off the RX5?

RX5

I can’t help but worry about all the dangers of owning a car that’s connected to the internet, because that’s where hackers hang out. Wired’s report from last July about how security experts demonstrated vulnerabilities in cars by remotely cutting the transmission of a Jeep Cherokee with a passenger on board shook me to the core.

In February, researcher Troy Hunt showed that the Nissan Leaf electric car could be easily hacked using information from the car’s companion mobile app.

My fears aren’t only based on stories about attackers gaining control of vehicles, but also on software bugs that could cause us to lose control of them. In April, some owners of Tesla’s high-tech Model X SUV reported that they were being locked out of their cars. It’s possible that this was a manufacturing issue, but I shudder to think of poorly written code rendering my care useless until fixed.

Alibaba’s RX5 claims to offer several internet-connected features, but I see each of them as opportunities for hackers to compromise the vehicle and potentially put passenger’s lives at risk.

I know I sound paranoid, but the reality is that securing digital devices is difficult, and creating strong systems to protect them takes time. Embedding cutting-edge tech into a car may allow us the luxury of convenient new functionality, but not without introducing a certain element of risk.

It’s still early days for the Internet of Things – vehicles included – and I’m not yet entirely comfortable having all my possessions connected to the cloud. In the case of the RX5, I’m happy to sit out the early adopter round and wait until worrying about connected-car security becomes a thing of the past.

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