Few programs in the Mac world have a reputation quite as bad as MacKeeper. But now it’s back, with a new look and a cleaned-up image.
So is it time to reconsider this controversial software? Let’s take a look.
What Is MacKeeper?
If you’ve heard of MacKeeper, chances are that what you’ve heard was negative. You may have learned of the aggressive advertising and scareware tactics that tried to get people to pay to fix problems they didn’t have. There was also the data breach that exposed information on some 13 million of its users.
This got so bad that other antivirus products started flagging up MacKeeper as a PUP—potentially unwanted program.
Now MacKeeper is on its way back. There’s a new management team in place, the company has cleaned up its advertising (and the affiliates blamed for ruining its reputation), and the program is now notarized by Apple.
So whereas once you might have steered clear of MacKeeper, is it now worth installing?
What MacKeeper Does
MacKeeper is an all-in-one performance and security solution for Mac. It’s split into four modules: cleaning, performance, security, and privacy. There are three tools in each section, and most are free.
An optional subscription gets you antivirus protection and a VPN. And as it’s aimed at less tech-savvy users, you also get tech support via online or live chat as part of the premium plan.
When you launch MacKeeper for the first time, it scans your Mac, running through parts of each of the modules and highlighting elements to fix. If you haven’t paid up by this stage, it will warn you that your Mac is unprotected and vulnerable. However, there’s no obligation to subscribe.
MacKeeper runs through a basic scan every day and alerts you to any major problems.
You can also access all of its individual utilities separately. Here’s a closer look at what they do.
Cleaning and Performance
The Cleaning and Performance modules include a set of tools for tuning up your Mac. They are effectively software solutions to hardware problems.
In the cleaning section you get Safe Cleanup, which searches for unwanted data like language files, logs, and caches. There’s also Duplicates Finder, which tracks down multiple copies of the same file. Smart Uninstaller can cleanly remove apps, as well as delete the files left over from your previous uninstalls.
The benefits are modest, though. Between them, these tools offered to reclaim around 2.8GB of space on our drive. Excluding caches, which macOS usually takes care of on its own, this fell to around 800MB. For reference, MacKeeper itself used around 240MB with everything set up and installed.
These utilities are okay for the rare spring clean, but if you need to use them regularly, you’ve got bigger problems. Buy an external drive for your Mac instead to permanently increase your storage.
In the Performance module, there’s the Memory Cleaner. This attempts to free up RAM by shutting down background apps, but achieves the same result as a reboot. In any case, macOS handles memory well enough without the need for third-party apps.
The tool lets you see some system processes that launch (as well as apps), yet offers no meaningful guidance on what you should or shouldn’t disable. There’s a reason Apple keeps this hidden.
The best of the bunch was Update Tracker. This finds updates to the programs you’ve installed from outside the App Store. It worked with most—but not all—of our apps, finding 16 available updates.
Security is what MacKeeper is best-known for. The main part of the Security module is Antivirus, which you must pay to activate.
Strangely, real-time protection is not enabled by default. Given that the app is aimed at more casual users, this seems like something that they could easily overlook. As well as real-time scanning, you can do a full scan, or a custom scan to check single files or folders.
It’s hard to judge the efficacy of antivirus software until you get infected. Plus, the jury’s still out on whether Macs even need antivirus software.
A full scan took around an hour and, unsurprisingly, turned up no issues. Unfortunately, services like AV Test don’t yet have independent tests of MacKeeper’s antivirus capabilities, so it’s hard to judge exactly how effective it is.
The other security tools are Adware Cleaner, which scans for adware and other malware. This also does real-time scanning. Again, you have to activate it, this time through a setting tucked away in Preferences.
There’s also a copy of the Find My feature installed on every Mac, which MacKeeper calls Track My Mac. To justify its existence, it has one extra feature: it will take a photo of anyone who tries and fails to log in to your computer.
You have to install and activate this separately, a process which involves granting MacKeeper permission to track your location and use your camera.
We had problems with it. At first it struggled to find our location, and later wouldn’t work at all, prompting a full reinstall of MacKeeper to get it going again. We’ll stick with Apple’s version.
The final module is Privacy. This offers StopAd, which installs ad-blocking extensions to Safari or Chrome. It also includes ID Theft Guard, which monitors email addresses for potential data breaches.
Theft Guard shows if your addresses have been involved in breaches and how, including listing any compromised passwords. You can add as many email addresses as you like, but have to verify them to prove that they’re yours.
The main part of the Privacy module is a VPN called Private Connect. It’s a no-frills service—you get hundreds of servers to pick from across dozens of locations, but can’t use any advanced features like a kill switch, for example.
During testing we didn’t experience any dropped connections, but we noticed a small impact on performance. Choosing the Best Server option, we hit an average speed of 36Mbps and a ping rate of 57ms, compared to 47Mbps and 18ms with it turned off.
Connecting to New York from the UK, we averaged 25.73Mbps, with a ping rate of 159ms. That’s still fast enough for Netflix, though.
While more serious users like to research their VPNs, and might find that info on the MacKeeper service (including a logging policy) is a little scarce, it’s a good choice for more casual users.
How to Uninstall MacKeeper
Whenever a program has a questionable reputation, one of the main concerns is how easy it is to uninstall.
Dragging MacKeeper to the Trash doesn’t quite do the job. It leaves a few traces elsewhere, including a sizeable footprint in the /Library/Application Support/MacKeeper folder.
We’d recommend using a free tool like AppCleaner to make sure you get it all removed.
Should You Use MacKeeper?
The good news is that MacKeeper’s dodgy days appear to be behind it. However, that’s not the same as saying it’s worth installing. The free tools mostly fall into three groups, and don’t offer much value.
Update Tracker was the most useful for us and lacks free competition. But if you don’t intend to pay, you’re better off finding and downloading smaller alternative apps as and when you need them.
As you’d expect, the paid components—the VPN and antivirus tools—are the best parts of MacKeeper. But there’s no shortage of alternatives to these, either. And there’s no getting away from the fact that MacKeeper is at the pricier end of the market.
MacKeeper costs $19.95 a month, or $143.40 for a year. By comparison, equivalent subscriptions to the anti-malware service Malwarebytes and the VPN Private Internet Access would cost $79.91 for 12 months’ use.
You could also just use free Mac antivirus software instead.