Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor who popularized the term "net neutrality," will join the office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Wu, a noted Internet policy expert, joins Schneiderman's administration in the wake of the attorney general's crackdown on so-called sharing economy startups, including Airbnb and Lyft.

Wu is seen as a sympathetic voice in the startup world, as he has championed a number of policies like net neutrality that have directly benefited technology founders. All the same, his appointment is drawing some gasps within New York's startup community, among those concerned that the attorney general's office will ramp up its investigations of technology companies.

Based on his new job description that result is a distinct possibility. In his new position as a senior lawyer and special adviser to Schneiderman, Wu will focus on technology issues, such as ensuring fair competition among companies that conduct business online and consumer protection.

"If I have a life mission, it is to fight bullies," Wu, 43, said in an interview with the New York Times.

While few startups would argue with any of this, it's hard not to wonder what the future may hold. If history serves, it won't be pretty.

In 2014, Schneiderman, drawing upon a law that says New York City apartments cannot be rented out for less than a month, declared about 60 percent of Airbnb listings in the city illegal. Airbnb responded by criticizing existing laws for not making allowances for businesses within the shared economy.

Also in 2014, a temporary restraining order against Lyft delayed the company's launch in NYC. The complaint out of Schneiderman's office stemmed from an alleged violation of the state's insurance regulations. 

For his part, Wu has also embraced public feuds. In 2014, he unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor, though he still garnered about 40 percent of the popular vote against Kathy Hochul, the running mate of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

But it was principles rather than politics that spurred Wu to take the position with the attorney general's office, he says.

"I'm interested in working on pocketbook issues where consumers can feel it, where the new economy makes them nervous and where you want the government to be carefully watching companies," he told the Times.

Still, Wu's appointment may not necessarily signal more struggles for startups operating in New York. Wu, who says he has a "wait-and-see approach" with startups, has called Airbnb "fair game," the Times separately reported.

Wu has not responded to Inc.com's request for comment. 

Published on: Sep 14, 2015