I was listening to a podcast where the speaker kept using the term “deep web” and “dark web” synonymously. Just so we’re clear at the outset here, they are not the same. I thought I would try to explain the difference as simply as I can.
It all starts with the surface web. This is the term used for whatever you can Google.
The deep web is anything you can find by searching within a website (e.g., libraries and databases). This is the data that you can’t see by just using Google.
The dark web is anything you can’t find because it is intentionally hidden. The most popular term with the dark web you have probably heard of is “Tor.” To use the “dark web,” you would need to download Tor (onion router), which hides your identity. With your VPN and Tor, you can access the “onion network,” which instead of loading up a site that uses “.com,” you are entering a site with a URL ending in “.onion”. The difference between an onion network and your basic “.com” world is that it has multiple layers of encryption (like peeling an onion). This means that your IP fingerprint is harder to trace – a lot of people say it’s impossible because Tor routes encrypted data through various servers across the globe. Personally, I wouldn’t say it’s “impossible” – just harder.
With the “dark web,” there is a ton of moral arguments to be made. I’ve always chosen not to visit the “dark web” because it’s a bit too seedy for me. Although, the intricacies of using the tool to trade anything from drugs to rare pokemon cards in an Amazon cart format is quite brilliant.
One of my friends would vehemently disagree and recently protested this very idea because she is passionate about political activism. While it is true that this tool provides anonymity to speak up against the government in places where it could be dangerous to the point of death, arguably such a tool is a good thing and provides a platform for people who may need it to secure basic human rights. In cases of social justice, the proliferation of Tor should be encouraged.
However, I still struggle with the concept because I’m not sure if anonymity should be synonymous with freedom. As a society, if we had an abundant amount of liberty, would it lead to a struggle in ethics? Does being anonymous enable people to be their worst self? Does the dark web entice people to misbehave?
I like to believe that every person wants to do the right thing and will behave in a manner to improve society but with 40% of the dark web being used for illicit situations, how do we balance that? Is it regulation? But wouldn’t that go against everything that we stand for regarding liberty and anonymity? To be fair, I have a ton of colleagues who explore the “dark web” for basic curiosity and of course the love for technology without cruel intentions.
I suppose, like any situation in life, it’s how we as a society choose to approach it.