Last year, Google announced some upgrades to Chrome, by far the world’s most used browser—and the one security pros often recommend. The company promised to make internet surfing on Windows computers even “cleaner” and “safer ” adding what The Verge called “basic antivirus features.” What Google did was improve something called Chrome Cleanup Tool for Windows users, using software from cybersecurity and antivirus company ESET.
Tensions around the issue of digital privacy are understandably high following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, but as far as we can tell there is no reason to worry here, and what Google is doing is above board.
In practice, Chome on Windows looks through your computer in search of malware that targets the Chrome browser itself using ESET’s antivirus engine. If it finds some suspected malware, it sends metadata of the file where the malware is stored, and some system information, to Google. Then, it asks you to for permission to remove the suspected malicious file. (You can opt-out of sending information to Google by deselecting the “Report details to Google” checkbox.)
As the head of Google Chrome security Justin Schuh explained on Twitter, the tool’s “sole purpose is to detect and remove unwanted software manipulating Chrome.” Moreover, he added, the tool only runs weekly, it only has normal user privileges (meaning it can’t go too deep into the system), is “sandboxed” (meaning its code is isolated from other programs), and users have to explicitly click on that box screenshotted above to remove the files and “cleanup.”
For almost all users, this seems really harmless, and for those who are extremely concerned about Google seeing some metadata, maybe they shouldn’t be running Google’s browser in the first place.
How to fix this ?
If you’re having a hard time finding the (USER)\AppData\Local folder, go to your Operating Systems search bar, type %appdata% which will take you to the “appdata/roaming” folder, then navigate up one folder (you should see ROAMING, LOCAL, LOCALLOW,) click the LOCAL folder.
Find software_reporter_tool.exe, open it in a text editor of your choice. Delete all the text, save the file, restart your browser. Not only will the program be disabled but it shouldn’t come back when you update your browser either.