From a working paper by Coscia & Rios (October 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. . .Interesting findings:
This tendency towards invading territories that are already taken is even stronger for the fourth cluster, integrated by Zetas and Golf organizations. We called these organizations “Expansionary competitive” because they are not only the most competitive but also the ones with the largest tendencies to explore new territories. In other words, they do not only try to invade others’ territories but also are the first to colonize new markets and to operate in areas where drug trafficking organizations had never been present before. In general, this last cluster is the one with the largest criminal organizations, operating on average on 324 municipalities (as of 2012) and spreading to an average of 38.87 new municipalities every year. Yet, it is also important to mention that their mobility is also the largest, they abandon an average of 22 municipalities per year, lasting only an average of 2.86 years in each one of them.From the conclusion:
We showed that criminal organizations, rather than being similar and operate under identical mechanics, differ significantly in their market orientations. We identified four types of Mexican criminal organizations: traditional, new, competitive and expansionary competitive. Traditional organizations operate in municipalities that they control since long time ago, on average since 1995. New organizations have only being in operation since 2007 on average, and tend to operate in municipalities where other criminal organizations had at some time being present but were abandoned. Competitive organizations are those that operate in territories are controlled by other organizations. Finally, expansion- ary competitive are those not only operate in territories that were already taken but also explore new territories, expanding their operations to areas that were drug trafficking organizations had never operated before. . .
The full title is "How and where do criminals operate? Using Google to track Mexican drug trafficking organizations."