Your Internet service provider (ISP) may know more about you than some of your closest friends.

It knows not only where you live, your phone number and what bank you use, but also what websites you visit (and how much time you spend on them) and even what you search for, whether it’s divorce lawyers or information on breast cancer treatment.

ISPs can collect this information and create a detailed profile of your life — something many consumers don’t realize — according to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Your smartphone ISP can even track your physical whereabouts and online activity minute to minute.

Wheeler recently released a proposal that would force ISPs to shed more daylight on their practices and give consumers more choice in how their data is used. Consumers "shouldn’t have to sign away their right to privacy," Wheeler writes.

The plan would require broadband providers to do four things: get your consent before collecting your data, disclose its data collection policies, protect your personal information and report any cybersecurity breaches. The proposal does not prohibit providers from collecting or using the data, it just requires getting your consent before doing it.

ISPs currently collect data without your consent, Reuters reports, and they use it to serve you targeted advertising. (That’s why if you search Google for, say, gold lockets, you’ll see ads for gold lockets on Facebook.)

Related: How to Keep Apps from Learning Too Much About You

ISPs don’t see encrypted data, such as transactions you make while you’re on a bank website, but they can see that you’re on a bank website and how long you’re there, Wheeler says. Using your Web browsing data, ISPs may be able to tell if you have a financial problem or certain health condition, for example.

Under the proposal, ISPs would be able to use your data for the purpose of marketing broadband communications services, but all other uses would require your express permission. The ISP would also need to let you know within 10 days if there’s been a breach of your data.

Privacy advocates had urged the FCC to write these regulations. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, praised the proposal as "a major step forward for the United States, which has lagged behind other countries when it comes to protecting consumer privacy rights."

The proposal will go to a vote by the FCC on March 31. A final vote would come after a public comment period, during which the FCC would seek possible "additional or alternative paths to achieve pro-consumer, pro-privacy goals."

Related: Is Your Insurance Company Using Social Media to Snoop on You?


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Angela is a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide. Prior to joining SafeBee, she was the features editor for Boston.com at The Boston Globe, overseeing health, travel, entertainment, business and lifestyle coverage. Before moving to features, she was the news and homepage editor, covering stories such as the Boston Marathon bombing, Red Sox World Series victories, presidential elections, a papal inauguration, and more. Her favorite safety tip: Clean your phone! The average cell phone has 18 times more germs than the toilet handle in a men’s restroom.