Have you ever been had?

If there was one consistent and recurring thread in the questions that you used to send MacUser, it was the danger of ‘clean-up’ or ‘housekeeping’ utilities.

Although some of them are well-behaved and worth considering if you really need that kind of tool, there is a long history of problems that readers have reported because of certain of them. They are usually installed innocently, even inadvertently, and once on your Mac can be almost viral in their behaviour – wreaking chaos, conflicting with OS X and other apps, and being utter buggers to completely uninstall.

Imagine then my horror when I found that I had installed one them on my iMac.

One of my weaknesses is that I am addicted to apps. At present, my main Applications folder contains just over 460 of the blighters, from 0xED to Zotero, and I am loathe to reduce that. Although more recently many have been App Store purchases, the great majority are licensed through traditional means. Keeping these up to date is quite a task, for which I have long used the announcements posted in what used to be MacTracker, then became VersionTracker, and which currently sails under the banner of CNET’s Download.com. Sadly each change of name has brought more strident advertising content and what I perceive to be a deteriorating service, but it still seems the best of the bunch for my onerous need.

Repeated intrusive adverts there for ‘cleaning’ products are galling enough – think red rags and bulls – but late last year I was tricked into installing one of those hated and hateful things. During the tedious series of dialogs which now have to be negotiated to download an updated version of, say, Cyberduck, a new dialog appeared. This was headed “Clean your Mac” and told me of the questionable virtues of one of these ‘cleaning’ products. At the foot of that information were the words “By clicking Accept you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.”

Some days I lose count of the number of different terms of use and privacy policies that I have to accept in order to do anything worthwhile. Like you, I have learned that trying to decipher their legalese is generally futile, and therefore assumed that this referred not to said ‘cleaning’ product, but to Download.com.

I was offered the choice of two buttons – Accept, the default which I knew would bring progress through these time-wasting dialogs, and Decline, which would clearly force me to start the tedium of obtaining the download afresh. Nowhere was there mention of the words ‘download’ or ‘install’.

I then found myself in the invidious position of watching said ‘cleaning’ product download, install itself somewhere, then run automatically, without any further prompt or call for authentication. I would have been happier gulping down liquid bleach.

I hastily cancelled its generous invitations to scan and cleanse my Mac of all ills, and set out to locate this work of the devil that had slipped through my defences by deception. It had not – yet – wheedled its way into sensitive Library folders, nor rogered my StartupItems (or LaunchAgents, or LaunchDaemons). Like the stoic gunfighter digging a bullet out of the other arm, I extirpated that app, and set about scouring for remaining fragments.

Call me old-fashioned, but I can live with adverts that advertise, and try to lure or even bribe me to try or buy a product. Anyone who feels that they must wheedle their product onto my Mac by bare-faced deceit knows that I do not want it, any more than I want any other Trojan horse. I am tempted to rent the domain name getshaftedbyunwantedcleaningapps.com and point it at such sites.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 30 issue 12, 2014.