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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Users of the popular photo & video sharing app now have the option of sending images privately with friends.

In a blog post Thursday morning, Instagram says the new update, dubbed Instagram Direct, is available now to iOS and Android phones.

Users can now share photos taken with the app directly with up to fifteen friends, and the sender will be able to see when the recipients have viewed the photo, and who else the photo was shared with.

The idea is to allow users to share photos or video with specific friends, or specific groups of friends.

Many tech bloggers believe this new feature, although under development for some time, was released right on the heels of Twitter's announcement earlier this week of also letting users share photos by direct messages, for competitive equality.

Unlike Twitter however, Instagram permits users to send Direct to others on Instagram that don't follow them.

Say for instance a fan attempts to send a Direct photo or video to a celebrity on Instagram. That celeb will be notified that there is a Pending Direct message request, and then they can elect whether or not to view it.

Just the same, if you receive message sent Directly from another Instagram user you're not following, that will be placed into a Requests area, and you can decide to view it or not.