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Apple security program, MacKeeper, celebrates difficult birthday

Jeremy Kirk | May 6, 2015
MacKeeper, a utility and security program for Apple computers, celebrated its fifth birthday in April. But its gift to U.S. consumers who bought the application may be a slice of a $2 million class-action settlement.

MacKeeper, a utility and security program for Apple computers, celebrated its fifth birthday in April. But its gift to U.S. consumers who bought the application may be a slice of a $2 million class-action settlement.

Released in 2010, MacKeeper has been dogged by accusations that it exaggerates security threats in order to convince customers to buy. Its aggressive marketing has splashed MacKeeper pop-up ads all over the web.

The program was originally created by a company called ZeoBIT in Kiev, Ukraine. The country — full of young, smart — has long been a hub for lower-cost software development and outsourcing.

The class-action suit, filed in May 2014 on behalf of Pennsylvania resident Holly Yencha, contends that MacKeeper falsely flagged security and performance problems in order to coax consumers into paying $39.95 for the full version. The suit sought $5 million in damages.

It is close to being settled, according to recent documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Under the settlement terms, ZeoBIT would put $2 million into a fund for those who want a refund, but admit no fault, which is customary in such settlements. It has yet to be approved by a judge.

MacKeeper was wildly lucrative for ZeoBIT. As many as 650,000 consumers bought it in the U.S., according to documents filed in the suit. At $39.95 per copy, ZeoBIT would have made $26 million in revenue in the U.S. alone.

In April 2013, ZeoBIT, which now lists its headquarters as Sunnyvale, California, sold MacKeeper to a company called Kromtech Alliance Corp. Kromtech was closely affiliated with ZeoBIT in Ukraine, and many employees of ZeoBIT transferred to the company, which lists its headquarters as Cologne, Germany.

An effort has been under way by Kromtech to rehabilitate the image of MacKeeper to keep the franchise going. But concerns remain over how MacKeeper diagnoses a computer's health.

AV Comparatives, an Austrian company that evaluates antivirus programs, recently tested the latest trial version of MacKeeper at the request of IDG News Service. It was installed on a fresh, fully patched version of OS X Yosemite, Apple's latest operating system. In theory, the system should have had no problems.

MacKeeper warned in red in several places with exclamation points that the computer's condition was "serious" due to more than 500 MB of "junk" 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. Those that supposedly need cleaning up included language files.

Jeremiah Fowler, MacKeeper's U.S.-based spokesman, said that Kromtech has toned down its warnings, but defended the program's evaluations.

 

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