(ATTN: CORRECTS, CLARIFIES its user target in para 6; ADDS photo)
By Lee Youkyung
SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) -- Kakao Corp., the developer of the fastest growing mobile messenger service in South Korea, said Monday that it plans to set up subsidiaries in the United States and Japan this year in an effort to take on Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.
"We will establish wholly owned subsidiaries in the U.S. and Japan and advance into the global market," Kim Beom-soo, co-founder and chairman, told reporters. "It may seem like a David vs. Goliath battle, but our competitors are Facebook and Twitter."
Kakao Talk, its free mobile messenger application, replaced text messages and e-mails for many South Korean smartphone users, as the explosive growth of smartphones at home pushed them to seek a free-of-charge messenger in lieu of text messages that come with a small fee.
The one-year-old application had lured 10 million users as of April 1, including 1 million users located abroad, Kakao said. South Korea had 51 million cell phone subscribers as of February, including 10 million users of advanced, computer-like phones, according to government data.
In addition to free-of-charge wireless messaging to individuals, Kakao Talk allows group chats and the ability to share photos and videos. A daily average of more than 200 million messages are exchanged on the Kakao Talk mobile application.
The company eyes 20 million users by the end of 2011 by adding more overseas subscribers, which remain at about 10 percent of its 10-million user base. The service is available in 216 countries, Kim said.
The popularity of the mobile application has also put the company in the hot seat over its security lapse. The latest backfire came from local mobile carriers that expressed concerns about the free ride service clogging its network with a stream of wireless data.
"We have been collaborating with mobile carriers since early this year," the company's chairman said. "We could have had a security weakness as we started with a couple of developers at first, but we spent the last three months on investing heavily in security."
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