How and where do criminals operate? Using Google to track Mexican drug trafficking organizations

CID Research Fellow & Graduate Student Working Paper No. 57

Michele Coscia

Viridiana Rios

August 2012


We develop a tool that uses Web content to obtain quantitative information about the mobility and modus operandi of criminal groups, information that would otherwise require the operation of large scale, expensive intelligence exercises to be obtained. Exploiting indexed reliable sources such as online newspapers and blogs, we use unambiguous query terms and Google’s search engine to identify the areas of operation of criminal organizations, and to extract information about the particularities of their mobility patters. We apply our tool to Mexican criminal organizations to identify their market strategies, their preferred areas of operation, and the way in which these have evolved over the last two decades. By extracting this knowledge, we provide crucial information for academics and policy makers increasingly interested in organized crime. Our findings provide evidence that criminal organizations are more strategic and operate in more differentiated ways than current academic literature had suggested.