The Deep Web vs. The Dark Web: What’s the Difference?

When search sites use the terms interchangeably, it can create dangerous misunderstandings about these two parts of the internet.

As you research companies that specialize in people search and background checks, you might come across two terms: the “deep web” and the “dark web.” When sites use these terms interchangeably, it can create dangerous misunderstandings about two distinct information sources and their legality. We’ll try to clear up any confusion about these terms, starting with the web territory that people use most often.

The Internet

When you’re using the internet, you’re usually reading articles, shopping, writing social media posts, or engaging in other common online activities. These kinds of activities take place on what’s known as the “surface web.” Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! index the text and images of these pages for retrieval during searches. Anyone with an internet connection can easily access this kind of information with a simple Google search.

But the internet is comprised of far more than just the surface web. It also contains both the “deep web” and the “dark web.”

The Deep Web

Not all information on the internet is indexed by major search engines. Coined by computer scientist Michael K. Bergman in 2001, the term deep web refers to data kept in both public and private databases that specifically can’t be indexed or archived by engines like Google and Bing.

Public Databases

For this kind of database, the user is generally required to log in or supply unique information in order to obtain access. You probably access these databases more often than you realize. For example, if you visit your local County Assessor’s site, you have to enter a Map ID to search the database to find your property tax records. Or if you want to research an attorney, you would go to the State Bar website and search for that attorney’s name to ensure they’re eligible to practice law. In both examples, you need to interact with an online form before you can access the information you need.

Private Databases

While some information is public – like the last known address of a registered sex offender – some databases aren’t accessible to the public at all. An example is the driver-vehicle database maintained by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Let’s say you’re in a hit-and-run accident in California and you get the license plate of the car that hit you. You’ll want to know who the driver is so that you can take legal action. But only those with a permitted purpose under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act – such as law enforcement personnel or your insurance company – can search the DMV database to tell you who hit you.

The Dark Web

You’ve probably read in the news about Silk Road, the website where illegal drugs are bought and sold, or about websites that traffic child pornography. Sometimes called “darknet markets,” sites that offer illicit products are located in what’s known as the dark web. The dark web is a subset of the deep web in that it’s not indexed by search engines. However, unlike much of the deep web, the dark web is used almost entirely for illegal purposes.

Unique Technology Required

To access darknet markets, users run what’s known as a Tor browser on a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The Tor browser employs encryption technology. Coupled with the VPN, it erases online movements so that the user’s activities can’t be tracked. Users can therefore engage in illegal transactions that law enforcement can’t detect.

Legitimate Uses

That said, the Tor browser (and browsers like it) isn’t in itself nefarious. For example, businesses sometimes use its encryption capabilities for sensitive communications with their clients. Also, in countries where free speech isn’t protected, political activists might use such technology to organize movements. As always, technology can be a double-edged sword.

How Spokeo Works

Spokeo is here to shed light on life’s dark corners. Using proprietary technology and expertise, we quickly and efficiently search public information on the surface web and gather information from public databases to create our reports. So, whether you’re trying to protect yourself and family, or to connect with lost loved ones, you can have peace of mind. That’s the Spokeo difference.