Most marketers say the best place to hide a dead body is on page two of Google. I disagree. There’s a darker digital graveyard. It’s called the deep web, a place where Google can’t find anything.
I’ll admit, that's a pretty grim description of the deep web. But it isn’t the sinister abyss of illegal and disturbing activity that the media clamors about. That place is called the dark web.
The terms "deep web" and "dark web" are often used interchangeably -- they're not the same thing, though. The dark web is technically a tiny sliver of the deep web, making up 0.01% of it, but the horror stories you hear about the dark web don’t actually happen on the deep web.
In fact, most of the content on the deep web is quite similar to the content that you can find on Google, which is called the surface web. And we use it everyday without even knowing it.
The deep web is just content you can’t find on a search engine, like your personal email account, social media accounts, online banking account, a brand’s gated pages, or a corporation’s private database.
The only difference between the deep web and the surface web is that a thin layer of security stonewalls the public from accessing content on the deep web, whereas anyone can access content on the surface web.
Over 96% of online content is on the deep web -- most of the information we access on the internet requires authentication, like your online banking portal or email account. Imagine if anybody could access these accounts by just Googling your name. Your most personal information would be publicized to the entire world.
Websites don’t index these authentication-protected pages for Google to find for good reason -- only certain people should have access to them, not everyone.
The deep web isn’t entirely without fault, though. While the dark web only makes up 0.01% of the deep web, this tiny sliver is arguably its most dangerous part.
You can’t access the dark web through a standard web browser like Google Chrome or Safari -- you need to download an encryption software like Tor to do so. Tor anonymizes users’ identity, location, and data transfers, so there tends to be a lot of criminal activity on the dark web. According to a study by two cyber-intelligence threat experts, over half of sites on the dark web offer illegal products or services. And it’s virtually impossible to track any of these criminals or their activities.
But even though it’s nearly impossible for law enforcement to catch these criminals, the dark web’s anonymity is actually beneficial for its ethical users.
Since you can use the dark web to communicate online without leaving a digital footprint, political whistleblowers, activists, and journalists who live in oppressive countries that censor the internet or punish outspoken citizens can leverage the dark web to state their true opinions without revealing their identities.
The dark web has two stark spectrums. It can be a platform for the silenced or it can be a breeding ground for illegal activity. And that begs the question ...
Is the Dark Web Illegal?
Accessing the dark web is not illegal. Even though people do illegal things on the dark web, using it to access hidden content isn’t against the law. In fact, Tor, the most popular software solution for accessing the dark web, was originally created by the U.S. Navy and is funded by the U.S. government today.
The deep web is mistakenly associated with the dark web’s illegal activity all the time, and it’s also called the invisible or hidden web, which further mystifies its surprisingly normal uses.
The deep web isn’t just a marketplace for drugs and other illegal items -- that description isn’t even remotely accurate. The deep web is mostly harmless and extremely important for protecting our personal information and privacy.
It’s essential for everyday life.
Originally published Jul 13, 2018 6:00:00 AM, updated May 23 2022