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Someone to watch over AOL

Responding to persistent concern about security, America Online selects a guardian to protect its members from potential fraud and "exposure to illicit activities."

America Online today selected a guardian to protect its integrity.

Maybe that's altruistic, but AOL did name Tatiana Gau as vice president of a new department called Integrity Assurance. The department will oversee online security for users, seeking to guard them from potential fraud and "exposure to illicit activities."

Online security is one of the biggest concerns voiced by Net users, and AOL is pinning much of its financial future on electronic commerce, as well as assurances that it is working to the privacy of its members--no easy task these days. Analysts say online services must do more to mitigate these risks if they are going to grip the mass market.

Despite its haughty-sounding title, the newly created AOL position carries with it some solid experience. Gau used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency. Her job is to protect users from the seedier activity of the Net, such as online pyramid schemes and credit card fraud.

"AOL maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward individuals engaging in disruptive and/or criminal behavior in cyberspace, and we are prepared to support that policy in every way possible," said Bob Pittman, president and CEO of AOL Networks.

Gau's action plan was not announced, but her task is to strengthen security of users' confidential information and find ways to shield them from online harassment. The 20-person Integrity Assurance team is made up of existing AOL employees who work in fraud prevention.

"One of our big focuses for the upcoming year is online commerce," Gau said. "We're going to make sure we secure customers purchases when they go outside of our firewall."

Before joining AOL, Gau was executive vice president of Parvus International, a business intelligence firm. She had also been a director of Jerico International, an affiliate of Parvus based in Bermuda.