Now, along comes little Ask.com, with its AskEraser function almost perfectly timed with the changing Zeitgeist, just before Christmas and just after Facebook had to surrender to the "Opt In" lobby.
The announcement earned a little press coverage, most of it mixed. The New York Times, for example, gave AskEraser a fair amount of ink, describing it as real break from the ferocious, and almost invisible, data gathering going at bigger competitors like Google. But then the Times airily dismissed the news with a wave of its hand, suggesting that Ask was such a minor player in the search field -- it doesn't even have its own advertising system, the Times noted as an aside -- that the news was of minor interest to anyone.
I disagree, in part because I've spent my career following little companies that managed to spot a turn in the culture, or an unnoticed structural flaw in a maturing industry, and then use it run down the well-entrenched, seemingly invulnerable giants.
As I've written in the past, I was inside eBay during its earliest days. When Pierre and Jeff first explained the company's business model, I must confess that what I saw as a crucial failing -- eBay choosing not to hold the money like a traditional auction house, but merely act as a platform for the transaction -- turned out to be the key to eBay's success.
I didn't make the same mistake when, in the early days of Google, Eric Schmidt explained to me the key difference between the Google search engine and all of its competitors: that it would not only be a free service, but that the weighting of the search results would not be influenced by advertisers. I knew that strategy would work because of my own frustrations with the then-current crop of search engines.
Little companies with the right idea, especially ones that tap into a vast reservoir of consumer unhappiness, can sometimes take down even the big boys. Right now, Google is the biggest, baddest company on the block. It looks unstoppable. But that's what they used to say about Microsoft. And anyone who has spent any time around Google lately has come away with the sense that there are all sorts of huge internal problems building in that company that could bubble to the surface at any moment.
Will Ask.com be the David to Google's Goliath? It's hard to say yet. It certainly won't if the company keeps producing those moronic commercials. But it is on to something. Has Ask.com found the soft, undefended, underbelly of Google that competitors have been searching for years to find? Privacy may be the new competitive arena, and 'Opt In' its most lethal weapon. We the people want the Web back -- and in the next few years we're going to fight to get it.
This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News. Facebook and ABC are partners in a political content application.