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the deep web also the dark web

noun

a part of the Internet that cannot be accessed with conventional browsers or search tools, often used for illegal activity

'The underbelly of the Internet, known as the deep web, is 500 times the size of what we call the surface web – that which can be searched and indexed by the likes of Google, Yahoo! and Bing.'

SC Magazine UK 18th July 2014

'A senior RAF airman who served in Afghanistan has been jailed for making … weapons and then selling them on the dark web.'

The Telegraph UK 2nd July 2014

It seems that the Internet is a bit like the sea – there's the frothy bit on the surface that everyone sees and routinely uses in daily life, but below it lies a gigantic chasm with hidden depths, only explored and utilized by a handful of specialists. It's this virtual underworld which is now sometimes described as the deep web or the dark web, and it often has rather sinister associations.

the exact proportions of the deep web haven't been established, but it's likely to be many hundreds of times bigger than the surface web, and contain a massive repository of data that can't be located by a simple Google search

As more and more people across the world access the Internet, they're in fact finding less and less of the data that's actually stored online. The web as we know it can be viewed with standard web browsers and search engines, but in the same way that just the tip of an iceberg can be seen by observers, these tools only allow us access to a mere fraction of the web in its entirety. Buried below the web we know and love, which is often correspondingly characterized as the surface web, lies the deep (or dark) web, also known as the hidden/invisible web, or the undernet.

The exact proportions of the deep web haven't been established, but it's likely to be many hundreds of times bigger than the surface web, and contain a massive repository of data that can't be located by a simple Google search. Users of the deep web include journalists, police officers and the military, and it is often used as a way of preserving anonymity – encryption processes and sending data across more circuitous routes can hide a person's location and identity, making it very hard to connect them to a particular activity.

Predictably, however, there's also a murkier side to the deep web (hence the alternative moniker dark web), where the opportunity to hide identity, bury data, and conceal the source and destination of transactions promotes a wide range of criminal activity.

Background – the deep/dark web

The term deep web was first used in 2001 – its coinage is associated with US computer scientist and web expert Mike Bergman. The expressions hidden/invisible web appeared a few years earlier, and were originally used to refer to web pages that weren't registered with any of the search engines and therefore appeared to be hidden/invisible.

The alternative term dark web is, of course, based on secondary senses of the adjective dark, such as 'morally bad' or 'hidden and mysterious' (compare dark secret, dark character, etc). A similar use of dark is at work in other expressions we've highlighted in BuzzWord over the years, such as dark tourism the phenomenon of people travelling to the scene of a tragedy), and more recently dark pool (a method of financial trading in which share prices are kept hidden).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 9th September 2014.

Open Dictionary

digital hermit

a person who avoids using modern technologies like e-mail or the Internet

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