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No, you don’t have a porn virus

FOR a split second, I was worried.

While browsing on my MacBook Air recently, a window appeared under the website I was visiting, announcing its arrival with a loud beep.

Minimizing the main browser window revealed this disconcerting message underneath: “Your Mac OS may have (3) Porn Virus! If you don’t remove these virus, they may infect your system files and damage your hardware.” The “pop-under” window also listed my OS version as OS X, and gave my city location and my IP address. Below this, it said “Click ‘Remove Now’ to download MacKeeper and run a full system scan immediately!”

Maybe it was the bad grammar that turned me off, or my naturally suspicious nature kicking in. In any case, I did not click on the OK button and merely dismissed the window by closing it.

The virus warning came back a few more times and became annoying enough that I did some research to find out what was going on. What I found made me glad I didn’t click OK.

The first clue that Mac users should steer clear of MacKeeper—a utility and security software suite--was a news item from the IDG News Service last month that said tens of thousands of people who bought the program have filed for refunds as part of a proposed class-action settlement against the application’s former developer.

The class-action suit was filed in May 2014 on behalf of Holly Yencha, who said MacKeeper falsely flagged security and performance problems to push consumers into paying $39.95 for the full version.

 “MacKeeper has been dogged for years by accusations it is so-called scareware, a term for applications that use intimidating warnings to get consumers to buy the program,” IDG’s Jeremy Kirk wrote.

The lawsuit was filed against ZeoBIT, the Ukrainian company that originally developed MacKeeper. In 2013 ZeoBIT sold MacKeeper to a German company, Kromtech Alliance Corp., which has apparently retained some of the original owner’s bad habits.

Writing in iMore.com in January this year, Peter Cohen talked about some of these unsavory practices.

 “MacKeeper uses scare ads that appear as ‘pop-under’ ads on web sites, telling people to clean their Macs,” Cohen wrote. “Quite frankly, I think it’s a real bottom-feeder technique and a really low-class way to do business...”

In the past, Cohen added, MacKeeper’s developers have also been criticized for hosting fake websites to promote their product and for posting phony user reviews. When they were called out on these, the company blamed overzealous marketing affiliates for using these underhanded techniques.

 “But the real problems with MacKeeper that I can see is that it provides questionable value to most users, can destabilize an otherwise stable Mac, and embeds itself so thoroughly into the operating system that removing it is an uncomfortable and weird process,” Cohen added.

On the other hand, Leander Kahney, writing in Cult of the Mac in 2012, noted that while a large segment of the Mac community loathes MacKeeper, it has been “almost universally praised by professional reviewers.”

 “All the reviews praise the software for being well designed and easy to use. Macworld magazine calls it ‘a gem.’ TUAW gives it a favorable review. Dave Hamilton of Backbeat Media, a Mac industry veteran, recently talked it up at Macworld Expo. None of the professional reviewers complain of slowed-down machines or deleted data,” Kahney wrote.

But reporting earlier this year, Kirk said IDG hired an Austrian company AV Comparatives to test the latest trial version of MacKeeper on a fresh, fully patched version of OS X Yosemite.

In theory, the system should have had no problems, he wrote, but MacKeeper warned that the computer’s condition was “serious” and tagged more than 500MB worth of “junk” files—including the built-in language files.

 “After fixing 85 files for free, it warned more than 1,500 need cleaning—but only if the full version of the program was purchased,” Kirk wrote.

Jeremiah Fowler, Kromtech’s US-based spokesman, defended the flagging of language files, saying, “Sure, it may not be this massive amount of data, but these are things that you’ll never use. You’ll probably never activate Chinese.”

Fowler was also quoted as saying the company buys more 60 million ad impressions a month, making it one of the largest buyers of web traffic aimed at Mac users.

But it is one thing to market aggressively, and quite another to scare or trick people into buying your product.

For this reason alone, MacKeeper is not a keeper. In fact, I’d stay as far away from it as possible—even when its pop-under ad warns you your Mac has a porn virus. Chin Wong

Column archives and blog at: http://chinwong.com

Topics: MacBook Air , OS X , MacKeeper , porn virus
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