The World Wide Web. Oh digital womb of information. Oh protocol structured, network driven divine alter of worship. Oh what a load of tripe. To let the raging bull into the china shop of illusion, it’s a corporate controlled space where 2.5 billion souls consume, babble like jacked up geriatrics in a bingo hall and watch consenting adults indulge in their twisted ballet of the flesh. At least that’s what I thought.
But there’s something darker lurking in the depths. It’s a shady, secret expanse – home to both the brightest and most repugnant sides of human nature. The Deep Web.
I know I’m way behind the curve on this – so apologies to the indoctrinated. Go make a cup of tea, look at your reflection in a spoon and marvel at the visage of one who has mastered the totality of human knowledge. For those like myself, to whom the existence of such a place impacted the consciousness like a comedy anvil falling from the sky to ruin a tea party, let me drop a jewel.
The World Wide Web is like the Universe. Ever evolving and expanding, its size is hard to conceptualise in the mind. Matter in the Universe can be split into two categories: observable and dark. The former can be defined as everything that can, in principle, be observed from Earth (planets, stars, atoms, galaxies….your mum’s chocolate brownies). The latter is everything that cannot be seen directly with telescopes – invisible matter if you will*.
All the ‘stuff’ in the web-iverse is organised in the same way. The observable or surface web is everything that can be ‘seen’ through your search engine telescope. The Deep Web is everything else that cannot be detected using the same search apparatus – invisible content if you like.
In both the Universe and the World Wide Web, what is actually observable is only a fraction of the full picture. The Deep Web contains a gargantuan 7500 Terabytes of information compared to the rather miniscule 19 terabytes of content available on the observable web. Or to put it another way, there’s 550 billion invisible documents loitering around in the shadows, compared to a measly 1 billion basking in the light of the search engine sun.
Confronted by the enormity of the Deep Web, my mind started to spin like the Sunday laundry. Why does this immensely vast space even exist? What sort of content resides in its murky chamber? And what are the implications for us Homosapiens?
Anonymity, privacy and secrecy – these were the motivators behind the apparition of the darkest realm of cyber space. It’s a place free from the salivating mouths and lecherous fingers of the faceless data stealers. An environment where the obtrusive noses of corporate snoops and the scrutiny of behavioural analysts fade into a fog of futility. In this constantly shifting, dynamic arena a user leaves no trace.
So how do we transcend the surface matrix and enter the Deep Web? The most well known gateway is The Onion Router (TOR). TOR is a system for anonymous internet browsing based on encryption and re-encryption occurring multiple times through different relays in layers (hence the stunningly clever name). It prevents anyone watching your internet connection and learning what sites you visit, as well as hiding your location. To satisfy your hedonistic and primeval browsing urges, all you need is some downloadable software and, to quote the Archangel Gabriel’s famous words to the Virgin Mary, “You’re good to go”.
Right, we’re in. First stop, The Hidden Wiki a.k.a. Satan’s directory. And even a capped WTF couldn’t quite convey my reaction to the debauchery, rampant criminality and inspiring examples of human expression waiting to be discovered. Child pornography, snuff films, Hitman directories, forged IDs and documents, people trafficking, even a narcotics ebay raking in $22 million a year – these are the horrors floating around the primordial Deep Web ooze. Yet in the same malicious ether we have mass collaboration and data sharing between governments, the voices of oppressed political activists and populations as well as innovative technological and cultural subcultures flourishing in the non-censorship soil.
People get so caught up in the contents of the Deep Web. But this is to miss the train to Pointville. From a theoretical perspective it’s a platform for the everyman, a fertile landscape free from corporate control, agendas and non-ethical bottom lines. The ultimate in pure human expression.
However as with any theoretical model, the insertion of the human psyche into the framework corrupts the mechanics, purpose and end product of the system (just take a look at modern day democracy).
The Deep Web raises important issues relating to privacy, anonymity, control and expression. But is it not simply another example of the conflict between predicted human behaviour in hypothesis and the uncontrollable human spirit in reality?
*I know this description of the universe is tantamount to the creation of a macaroni portrait in Primary school, so sozzer to all physicists, cosmologists, mathematicians, universe formation theorists and the downtrodden.