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Instagram testing stand-alone Direct messaging app

Instagram Inc. is stepping up its bid to take on Snap Inc.'s Snapchat as it tests a stand-alone version of its private messaging app Direct, The Verge reported.

The stand-alone Instagram Direct app, which opens to the camera and connects to the Instagram app, was released on test mode Dec. 7 in Chile, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and Uruguay.

Instagram users in the six countries will reportedly have their inbox disappear from the Instagram app and will only show up on the stand-alone Direct app.

"We can push the boundaries to create the fastest and most creative space for private sharing when Direct is a camera-first, stand-alone app," Hemal Shah, an Instagram product manager, told The Verge.

Instagram previously added Snapchat-like features such as augmented-reality face filters, disappearing messages on Direct, its own version of Snapchat's Stories called Instagram Stories, and "geo-stickers."

Instagram's parent Facebook Inc. earlier discontinued the messaging feature on its mobile app, in a bid to encourage its users to install the stand-alone Facebook Messenger app.