Answering Unanswerable Questions

“No, you can’t have that data!”

This is what far too many people get as an answer when they ask for access to sensitive data. But imagine if you were told you had to get huge amounts of highly sensitive, strictly regulated data and it was your job to keep it safe forever while also enabling the harvesting of every bit of knowledge from it.

Having been in this exact situation, I can tell you it is scary. When you are in this position, it is not enough to protect this data today, but you also need to worry about the consequences when someone who comes after you, either intentionally or unintentionally lets this data out into the wild.

Data protection, analytic value and unlimited data sharing – from a single solution…

Let me give you a little more detail. I was asked to build a solution to collect and combine FERPA protected academic data from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and HIPAA protected data. This included data from over a dozen health care service providers, including Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. These providers operate School-Based Health Centers on LAUSD’s campuses. The goal was to combine this data, at the individual-level, and learn previously unobtainable insights about the relationship between the healthcare services provided to students and their academic performance. A worthwhile goal, but it meant I would be responsible for highly sensitive data from hundreds of thousands of students every year.

When considering how to protect this data I had a worst-case scenario. A student, whose records include reproductive care, runs for President of the United Sates in the future.  Without a doubt, forces hostile to her candidacy would attack my protections with tools and techniques unknown today. So, I was distraught after reviewing the available technologies and realizing nothing out there would suffice. This decision was too important for me to simply mark a checkbox and claim the protections were good enough. It terrified me to think that taking the easy way, like relying on encryption to protect this data, could literally change the course of world history. This is why no one had ever been able to bring HIPAA and FERPA data together to perform this research before. The risks were just too high.

It is also why Anonomatic invented Poly-Anonymization. Poly-Anonymization is an entirely new way to not only ensure sensitive data and their direct identifiers can never be breached, but also makes the data 100% useful. Now questions, which before could never be answered, are available on easy to digest dashboards. Administrators and researchers who want to know the impact of asthma treatments on daily attendance, or the differences in graduations rates based on different types of healthcare services have that information at their fingertips. Check out Groundbreaking research driving student wellness — The L.A. Trust for Children’s Health ( for more information on what child healthcare researchers are discovering, how they are answering questions with (what used to be) unobtainable answers. This solution has been running in production since 2020.

Are you interested to discover how much easier and safer it is to access and use Poly-Anonymized data? Reach out to Anonomatic to see how PII Vault® and Privacy ETL can solve your data privacy issues. Contact us | Anonomatic



Matthew Fleck, Founder & CEO - Anonomatic