A technology called PhotoDNA -- developed by Microsoft and used by Google along with other online companies -- is being credited with leading to the arrest of a man accused of distributing child pornographic images through Gmail.
Google has argued that they were largely complying with the law in notifying police. According to Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, the company's actions are consistent with the legal understanding.
“They are to report images of child sexual abuse, and they have done so,” he says.
What makes this particular case different from finding evidence of other criminal activity in an email, according to Balkam, is that Google does not scan for illegal content in such a way as to detect things like planned robberies.
But even with these efforts tackling email attachments, there are other methods of disseminating this material, so action by search engines isn’t the end of the story.
The operating system Android scored a point recently in its ongoing war with Apple. According to the latest data - for the first time ever - the web traffic generated from Android smartphones and tablets was greater than that of Apple’s mobile devices.
The news wasn't entirely a surprise. For some time now, sales of Android smartphones and tablets worldwide have been beating Apple. But Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has waved off any concern by saying Apple dominates when it comes to online traffic. Then he’d ask, where are all those Androids anyway?
"They must be in warehouses, or on store shelves, or maybe in somebody's bottom drawer," Cook would quip.
Cook will have to retire that joke with the news that Android now beats Apple’s mobile devices in web traffic. Tuong Nguyen is an analyst at Gartner and he doesn’t think Apple users will just switch to Android.
"When you talk about the iOS crowd, they tend to be a more self-selecting crowd," he said. "Users who have more income or are more engaged with their technology and devices."
Pai-Ling Yin is the co-founder of the Mobile Innovation Group at Stanford. She says the real turning point will be when greater Android web use turns into more money.
"Just because they’re using it more doesn’t mean you can get them to pay you more," says Yin.
She says Apple users still buy more apps and goods online and so, from a business perspective, can be seen as more valuable.
But, under its new law, the state is prohibited from collecting information about a kid’s Body Mass Index. It also can’t keep a record about whether she’s pregnant, and it can’t gather kids' email addresses.
And that’s just a small part of what the state’s law covers.
"States have taken a huge step forward in the last two years in really strengthening their capacity to safeguard data," said Aimee Guidera, head of the Data Quality Campaign, a non-profit that is tracking student data laws.
But, as technology advances and students do more work on computers, a lot of states want more.
Idaho, for example, rules out certain biometric data; the kind that are collected by analyzing brain waves and heart rate.
New York calls for a parents bill of rights for data privacy and security.
Kentucky has made it illegal for student data to be used to target ads to kids.
So far, more than 20 states have passed laws. And that’s just the beginning.
States with new student-data laws
(click state for details)
New York North Carolina
"Our sense is that we’re going to see a growth in the number of pieces of legislation introduced next year," said Guidera.
A lot of this legislation is being driven by fear, particularly among parents. They worry about what data is being collected and by whom. They want to know how it's being used and whether it is safe.
The rash of new laws and the push by states to pass more is also creating fear among educational technology companies.
"Some of the requirements provide real practical challenges to their ability to serve their customers," said Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director of Education Policy at the Software & Information Industry Association.
In other words, the privacy push is making it harder for companies who want to get their apps into classrooms across the country, he said. It also makes it harder to for them to cash in on the multi-billion dollar market for educational technology.
"We’ve heard it from developers who are now shying away a little bit from the education sector," said Schneiderman.
In tech-centric California, state legislators have been trying to find a way to keep everybody happy.
"We think we’ve found the sweet spot here," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. He's proposed a law that’ll let app developers use student data to improve their products, but not to market to students.
"We’re not trying to stifle this technology," he said. "To the contrary, we want more apps to help more kids."
But, said Steinberg, there are too many weak privacy polices right now, and there's too much free rein for companies collecting data about kids.