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Argentines become citizen cops with smartphone app

BUENOS AIRES -- A free smartphone application has encouraged more than 70,000 Argentines to become citizen cops as they shop.

Argentina's government blames escalating inflation on speculators and greedy businesses, and has pressured leading supermarket chains to keep selling more than 80 key products at fixed prices. President Cristina Fernandez wants citizens to report any overpriced items to the consumer protection agency.

“We want you to protect what's yours, because if not the others will win out every single day,” the president said in a national address this week.

Now a free app designed by two college students is helping consumers do just that by scanning bar codes to find evidence of overpricing. The “Precios OK” software appears to be an instant hit, with downloads in Argentina surpassing that of “Candy Crush” and “Instagram” in the Android store this week.

Independent economists say supermarkets are being scapegoated, and that government efforts to control the economy are making the crisis worse. A typical supermarket stocks 40,000 or more products, and price shocks are reverberating throughout the economy.

But consumers are gladly signing up to do their part as news of the app spreads on social media.

“You can go checking the prices,” marveled Analia Becherini, who learned of the app on Twitter. “You don't even have to make any phone calls. If you want to file a complaint, you can do it online, in real time.”

The software was designed by a pair of computer engineering students at the University of Buenos Aires, Yamila Fraiman and Alejandro Torrado, who previously won an award for a different app that helps drivers find parking spaces in the Argentine capital.

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Yamila Fraiman, right, and Alejandro Torrado, computer engineering students, work in the Buenos Aires public university during a demonstration of their app in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Thursday, Feb. 6. Alejandro and Yamila created a system in which customers can use their cell phones to scan the supermarket products to know if they are under price controls set by the national government. (AP)

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