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Ballmer defends Xbox in final shareholder speech

Outgoing Microsoft CEO stresses importance of the company's games business

Steve Ballmer has defended Xbox and Bing in his final speech to shareholders as Microsoft's chief executive.

Recent speculation has suggested that former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who is in the running to replace Ballmer, is interested in selling the Xbox and Bing arms of the Microsoft business as he doesn't believe they're profitable.

However, according to an account of Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting on Geek Wire, Ballmer reiterated the importance of both brands to the company's overall games vision.

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Ballmer said Xbox was "a reflection of what is possible when a company, our company, is unified under a common vision".

"This is really a signature moment in the transformation of the company. Microsoft is uniquely positioned to drive and define the next big thing," he added.

Ballmer has been overseeing the firm's Xbox business since July, following the departure of the former head of Microsoft's interactive entertainment business, Don Mattrick. In the long term, Microsoft executive Julie Larson-Green will be brought in as the long-term replacement for Mattrick.

Elsewhere during the conference, a shareholder raised the issue of customer security and privacy.

"We all want to live in a country and a world that's safe and secure," said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith. "But it is a business imperative that we maintain our customers' trust in every country of the world. We're focused on engineering improvements that will further strengthen security, including strengthening security against snooping by governments."

Earlier this year, Microsoft was accused of allowing the NSA to gain access to Outlook emails, Skype video calls and SkyDrive data as part of a secret US government intelligence initiative called Prism.

Microsoft has since taken measures to reassure customers concerned about privacy. In October, a senior Microsoft executive downplayed speculation that Kinect could be used as an advertising platform, where a user's emotional state and response could be captured and sent to the advertiser, or as a device that captures video information without permission.

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