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“Without anyone on the other end to recognize it, it’s a tree falling in the woods without anyone to hear it,” says Mike Zaneis, general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Zaneis insists the Digital Advertising Alliance offers the best approach since so many Websites and advertisers are on board.

Alex Fowler, Mozilla’s global privacy and public policy leader, says the browser maker is talking with many big websites, advertisers and ad networks about honoring its Do Not Track signal. And many are open to the idea. Still, so far only a handful of industry players have actually pledged to honor the signal.

And that, privacy watchdogs say, shows why the government needs to get involved.

Senator Rockefeller is sponsoring a bill that would direct the FTC to write binding, industry-wide Do Not Track rules. There are similar bills in the House and the California legislature.

The Internet marketing industry wants to head off those efforts and insists it just needs more time to establish meaningful privacy controls.

For now, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz is willing to give the industry a chance before calling for legislation. Even without a government mandate, he noted, it’s in the industry’s self-interest to make Do Not Track work. After all, Leibowitz says, “nobody wants to be on the wrong side of consumers.”