What Is the Deep Web?

The deep web refers to parts of the Internet not fully accessible through standard search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. The deep web includes pages that were not indexed, fee-for-service (FFS) sites, private databases, and the dark web.

Key Takeaways

  • The deep web refers to parts of the Internet not fully accessible through standard search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
  • The deep web includes pages that were not indexed, fee-for-service sites, private databases, and the dark web.
  • The deep web gives users access to far more information than would otherwise be available on the Internet, and it also increases privacy.
  • Perhaps the most serious criticism of the deep web is that it undermines the openness and equality of the Internet.

Understanding the Deep Web

Also called the hidden web or invisible web, the deep web is different from the surface web, where contents can be accessed through search engines. Information on sites like Investopedia is part of the surface web, as it can be reached through search engines. Most experts estimate that the deep web is much bigger than the surface web. Many webpages are dynamically generated or do not have links from other sites. Without links from previously indexed sites, the search engines cannot find them. That is why getting links from other pages is a basic principle of search engine optimization (SEO).

Fee-for-service sites are another major source of deep web content. Although fee-for-service sites, such as Netflix, are visible on the web, most of their content is not. Customers must pay a fee, create a user id, and set up a password to get most of the material offered by these sites. Only those willing and able to pay the fees for these sites can get access to their content. This restriction of information to paying customers goes against the egalitarian spirit of the early Internet. While access to movies might seem trivial, serious research tools like JSTOR and Statista also charge fees.

Private databases are also a crucial component of the deep web. Private databases can be as simple as a few photos shared between friends on Dropbox. They also include financial transactions made on major sites like PayPal. The crucial feature of private databases is that people what to share or preserve this information without sharing it with everyone. That makes it part of the deep web rather than the surface web.

Finally, dark web sites are part of the deep web. Silk Road was perhaps the most infamous site on the dark web. Many dark web sites can be reached by specialized search engines designed for that purpose, but not by standard search engines. In order to access these search engines and sites, it is necessary to use specific browsers, such as the Tor Browser. The dark web allows legitimate users to avoid censorship, but it also creates opportunities for cybercrime.

Despite all the publicity that it gets, the dark web is just one small part of the deep web.

Benefits of the Deep Web

The deep web gives users access to far more information than the surface web. This information may simply be pages that aren't important enough to be listed. However, it also includes the latest TV shows, databases that are essential for managing your personal finances, and stories that are censored on the surface web. Much of the content on the deep web would not be available at all if only the surface web existed.

Privacy, which is usually provided by encryption, is another benefit of the deep web. Encryption on the deep web allows fee for service sites to keep their content away from nonpaying Internet users while serving it to their customers. The encryption of databases is absolutely necessary for all forms of fintech to function properly. Without this security, neither firms nor individuals could safely conduct financial transactions over the Internet. The dark web was designed mainly to provide users with more privacy.

Criticism of the Deep Web

Perhaps the most serious criticism of the deep web is that it undermines the openness and equality of the Internet. In the 1990s, there were hopes that the Internet would give everyone an equal chance to access everything. Instead, fee-for-service sites give access to premium productivity tools only to those who can afford them. In many cases, crucial tools cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, creating barriers to entry.

The dark web creates another set of issues for the deep web. Those with advantages in knowledge rather than money can use it to commit crimes. In some cases, people hiding behind the dark web attack legitimate users on the surface web, reducing the quality of the Internet for everyone.