Can Amnesty International’s Mutant Font Really Keep You Safer Online?

Dann Albright 17-04-2015

We tend not to think about fonts 5 Typography Resources To Help With Your Designs We all know that fonts are important, right? I mean, when there's a website bashing Comic Sans exclusively, we know it's obviously important enough for someone to care about font usage. However, what makes a... Read More very much—we use Arial, Verdana, Georgia, and Helvetica all the time and never notice them. That’s why Amnesty International’s new font, which they say will promote conversations about Internet privacy, is so interesting. Will it get people talking? And can it actually make you safer online?


Meet Mutant Font

Amnesty’s new idea is called Mutant Font. Using Mutant Font is simple: just go to the website ( and enter the text you want to keep secret from prying eyes. Click “Generate Font,” copy the code, and paste it into your blog. The text is readable by humans, but poses difficulties for machines.

There are two ways that Mutant Font makes it harder for monitoring and censoring bots Why The Next 10 Years Looks Bad for Internet Censorship Although denizens of the world are learning more about censorship and learning new ways to counteract it, the outlook for the future of Internet freedom isn't looking good. Read More : the optical part that’s displayed on your screen, and the code that sits behind it. Both can be monitored, and the font has solutions for both. Let’s take a look at the displayed part first.

There are seven different variations of the font, each of which have “graphical interventions” added; for example, “Mutant Wavy” shows wavy lines behind each letter, “Mutant Fast” has horizontal lines projecting to the left from each letter, and “Mutant Square” displays a number of differently sized squares around each letter. These interventions are designed to prevent optical character recognition The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software turns printed documents into machine-readable text. Here we show you the best free OCR tools and how they work. Read More from picking up the letters and words that you’ve posted without making them too hard for people to read. The font displayed on your website changes every 24 hours, hypothetically making it difficult for machines to learn to read what you’ve written.

The code that represents the font changes every also 24 hours, making it even harder for machines to pick up on what’s being discussed on a particular web page. The informational video put out by Amnesty, above, says that there are thousands of codes, but it’s easy to imagine that number growing to tens or hundreds of thousands very quickly, making it difficult for machines to pick out patterns.

Between changing every 24 hours, using a special set of code, and using a number of graphical interventions, Mutant Font was created with Internet privacy in mind. Want to see what it looks here? Here’s a block of text in Mutant Font:



Mutant Font works on WordPress and most other content-publishing platforms 10 Most Popular Content Management Systems Online The days of hand-coded HTML pages, and mastering CSS, are long gone. Install a content management system (CMS) and within minutes you can have a website to share with the world. Read More , as well as sites using the http and https protocols. The code that you get from the Mutant Font website looks like this:

<p class="fonte_mutante_8">
 Ù2 8_4 !Y\ 2((E 3.( ,1Y–./!Y? /\3(15(\3/_\2 @Y;( 3./2 3(73 .Y1#(1 3_ 1(Y#F Ù\# 3.( )Y!3 3.Y3 /3 !.Y\,(2 _\ Y 1(,4?Y1 ZY2/2 2(15(2 3_ !_\)42( Z_32 3.Y3 Y1( 318/\, 3_ 1(Y# 6.Y3 8_4'5( 61/33(\F

 <a href="[URL]" target="_blank"><img src="[IMAGE URL]" class="img-hd"></a>

It also includes a block of CSS that you’ll need to add to your page to get the text to display correctly.

@font-face {
font-family: 'Fonte_Mutante_8';
font-style: normal;
src: url('') format('truetype');}
.fonte_mutante_8 {
font-family: Fonte_Mutante_8;
letter-spacing: 1px;}

Does It Work?

Because Mutant Font is still new, I wasn’t able to find any tests of whether or not it holds up against any actual surveillance software. It’s a good bet that the NSA, GCHQ, Chinese intelligence, and other similar agencies are using data-scraping technologies Should You Be Concerned About Your Facebook Data Being Scraped? How would you feel if you discovered your picture on a website, where people rank the picture as to whether or not you look like a jerk? Well, it's a true story. Read More to get alerts when specific trigger words or phrases are used online (especially for people who read about security Your Interest in Privacy Will Ensure You're Targeted by the NSA Yes, that's right. If you care about privacy, you may be added to a list. Read More ), but how effectively Mutant Font prevents this is yet to be seen.


Amnesty International hasn’t made any claims on the actual effectiveness of this font, and describes it primarily as a way to start conversations and spread awareness about Internet privacy issues Lessons Learned From Don't Spy On Us: Your Guide To Internet Privacy Read More It might do that . . . but it seems pretty likely that it won’t do much else.

I reached out to Amnesty International to ask them about any security-related research they’ve done with the font, and haven’t heard back yet. However, an email thread on privacy at W3C suggests that it doesn’t really have much security value at all. Which is probably true; the substitutions that it makes are quite simple.


And while the graphical interventions might make it harder for consumer-level optical character recognition 7 Best Free OCR Software Apps to Convert Images Into Text Want OCR software for free? This article collects the seven best programs that turn images into text. Read More to figure out what’s being written, I doubt it would get past government-level software.


Still, I’m hopeful that Mutant Font gets some people talking about what they need to do to stay safe online. A discussion about VPNs, Tor, and privacy on social networks What Does Facebook Know About You? Why You Should Delete Facebook What does Facebook really know about you? One thing's for sure: if you want online privacy, Facebook is best avoided. Read More  would be better, but we have to start somewhere.

What do you think about Mutant Font? Would you consider using it on your blog to draw attention to the fight for online privacy? Or is it a total gimmick? Share your thoughts below!

Related topics: Fonts, Internet Censorship, Online Privacy.

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  1. Oscar
    April 20, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Not gonna lie: I'm more interested in the music from that video

    • Dann Albright
      April 26, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      Yeah, the ad agency did a good job picking out the soundtrack, didn't they?

  2. SoftwareBabe
    April 18, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    A VPN or OpenVPN (freeware) is the best way to keep clear of the NSA. But, I would also recommend "Toolwiz Time Freeze" a freeware product that creates a VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT so nothing gets on your PC. I use Norton 360, but there are other freewares out there that work just as well.

    • Dann Albright
      April 19, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Yeah, a VPN or an anonymizer like Tor help a lot if you're trying to keep what you're writing secret. But if you're posting things on a blog, it's not going to help you as much, I don't think.

      Thanks for the recommendation on Time Freeze—sounds interesting!

  3. Dave Feland
    April 18, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    But wouldn't your page just have the text in ASCII code anyway? Defeating OCR would only work in printed material or if you're displaying text in an image like a JPEG.

    • Dann Albright
      April 19, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      I'm not sure exactly how it's displayed . . . I'll have to look into that.

      Good point!

  4. Alan Schietzsch
    April 17, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    If a public user can get the font, so can a government or covert user, which makes reverse substitution/solving essentially automatic. Well intentioned, doesn't work IRL.

    • Dann Albright
      April 19, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Yeah, I think the goal with the font is to get people talking about privacy more than anything else. When I first heard about it, it sounded like a cool idea, but it has no security value whatsoever.

  5. Kevin Coyle
    April 17, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Not so great for SEO!

    • Dann Albright
      April 19, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Haha—that's a very good point. :-)