GoogleSoftwareUpdateSource: iMore

There are a lot of great things Google has brought to the table over the years, including Search, Maps, and the Google Pixel smartphone (its cameras, anyway). Unfortunately, it's also an apex predator often accused of mining and collecting personal data in questionable ways.

A case in point is the GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app file that gets installed on Macs in the presence of Google apps such as Chrome and Google Earth.

First discovered by Wired a decade ago, the pesky file runs in the background and supports software patching and updating. Unfortunately, it also grabs your computer's hardware information, usage frequency, the number of active profiles on your computer, and more.

Recently, it's been rearing its ugly head again with the update to macOS Catalina. With the new Catalina security settings in place, updaters you may not have even known were there are being spotlighted, asking if you're OK with what they're doing. The first time you open Chrome on your Mac, you may see a notification asking if you want to run GoogleSoftwareUpdater.app, noting that Google installed it at a previous time. If you click "OK," you're back to what you've always been doing. If you click "Cancel," you have a new set of annoyances to deal with.

The folks over at E-Thinkers say what Google claims the file does is "harmless." However, because of how it's been designed, it "behaves like a malware."

What will you think if I'm telling you that there is a piece of software that:

  • it installs in your computer without explicit asking for your permission, nor giving the options to decline it;
  • it frequently sending data back to Google without your knowledge;
  • it can't be configured via a settings menu;
  • there is no uninstallation tool for you;
  • and it will re-install by itself if you delete it."

I would agree, which is why removing GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app permanently might be the best course of action for most Mac users. However, because the tool's main objective is to automatically update Google software in the background, a better solution might be to change how often Google can check for those updates.

Warning: This guide is for expert-level users. If you don't have a comfortable understanding of Terminal, low-level systems, and security, stay away. Otherwise, as a responsible adult: proceed at your own risk.

Confirming GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app

Before attempting to delete or adjust the Google file, you should confirm its existence on your computer. Hint: If you have a Google product installed, it's almost certainly there somewhere!

E-Tinkers first published each of the following steps in January 2018. Apparent changes made by Google required an update released in July 2019.

To confirm GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app is installed, you'll need to bring up Terminal.

  1. Selection Go on the Mac toolbar.
  2. Choose Utilities.
  3. Click Terminal.

    Mac terminal

  4. Type of the following command syntax: defaults read com.google.Keystone.Agent.plist .
  5. Hit Return. You should see a screen like the following; if you don't, the file isn't installed:

    Google fileSource: E-Tinkers

Adjusting how often GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app runs

In the screenshot above, note the checkInternal setting. This shows how often Google checks your computer for software updates in seconds. In the example above, Google checks every five hours (3,600 x 5 = 18,000 seconds) by default. You can adjust this time by changing it using Terminal. By changing how often the updater check for software updates, you can continue to use your Google apps, but only run it once in a while.

  1. Selection Go on the Mac toolbar.
  2. Choose Utilities.
  3. Click Terminal.

    Mac terminal

  4. Type of the following command syntax:

    defaults write com.google.Keystone.Agent checkInterval 604800 where the check now happens every 24 hours.

If you change the checkInternal to 0, Google's no longer sending data, which E-Tinkers rightly notes is sufficient for most users.

For those who don't like how Google uses the GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app on Mac, uninstalling might be the best option.

To uninstall GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app

You can disable GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app by using the command syntax: sudo rm -R ~/Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate/. Unfortunately, with this solution, it will quickly return if you once again run a Google app on your Mac.

Because of this, you need to take different steps to uninstall the app. These steps will prevent Google apps from reinstalling the update again by creating a dummy file with the same name:

  1. Selection Go on the Mac toolbar.
  2. Choose Utilities.
  3. Click Terminal.

    Mac terminal

  4. Type of the following command syntax:

    sudo touch ~/Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate

    sudo chmod 444 ~/Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate

One final step

In July, E-Tinkers determined Google had changed a setting so GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app would install on the global level on a Mac if a user deleted it at the user level. Therefore, you should also run this command in Terminal:

sudo touch /Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate

sudo chmod 444 /Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate

Is GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app really gone?

To confirm the Google app is now removed from your computer:

  1. Launch Google Chome.
  2. Type chrome://help in the URL. You should see the following:

    Google Chrome

It's light's out for GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app on your computer!

What about updates?

If you want to update a Google app on your Mac after following the steps above, you'll need to delete it, then install it again from the Google website. You'll once again need to delete GoogleSoftwareUpdate.app after doing so, however.

Any questions?

Let us know if you have any questions about the steps offered in this post below.