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What Is Google Chrome Helper, and Why Is It Taking Up So Much of My CPU Time?

If you use a Mac and Google’s Chrome browser, you may occasionally be visited by a ghost known as “Google Chrome Helper.” Here’s how to control this rambunctious browsing specter.


Although you can find lots of users complaining about it in the Chrome Help Center, it doesn’t explain what it is or what it does. The Chrome FAQ isn’t any better. What is this enigmatic aid, and what does it “assist” with?


The short version is that Google Chrome Helper isn’t the issue. When a rogue extension is installed or when Google Chrome’s plug-in settings are set to execute everything by default, it tends to go on a rampage. There’s a big list of plug-ins that Chrome supports here, however most users in the Help Center forums seem to have issues when using Flash content.


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The term “Google Chrome Helper” refers to any embedded content that runs outside of the browser. Browser plug-ins aren’t HTML-based features; they involve content that must be retrieved from somewhere else. The “Google Chrome Helper” serves as a bridge between the browser’s embed code and a remote server, and it’s set to run automatically by default in Chrome. Because the APIs don’t allow it, the plug-ins and processes they’re handling aren’t always listed by name. Google Chrome Helper is a sacrificial lamb.


It’s simple to turn off Helper’s auto-helping, and it won’t hinder you from using plug-ins. To view plug-in material, you’ll just have to opt in on a case-by-case basis. Deactivating it, on the other hand, isn’t exactly intuitive—the Helper isn’t mentioned anywhere except in your Activity Monitor and in forum complaints. You’ll need to go a few steps below in your Chrome settings.


To begin, close all Chrome windows without exiting the software. Go to “Preferences” in the Chrome menu, scroll all the way down, and click on “Show advanced settings…” The first item in the expanded advanced options list will be “Privacy,” and just beneath that will be the “Content Settings” button. A “Plug-ins” entry about halfway down the content settings list will most likely be set to “Run automatically.” Choose “Click to play” instead.


It’s essentially the same as setting up email to only load photos when you click a “load images” link. Until you click on it to load the player and the content, any embedded Flash, Java, Quicktime, DivX, or Silverlight material on a webpage will appear as a grayed-out space.


One significant advantage of removing the Google Chrome Helper? It should prevent Flash advertising from loading automatically without the need to install an ad blocker.

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Written by mortonrj