As a result, a lot of people refuse to get credit cards, store club cards, to register online for anything, etc. They protest when any new law comes down the pipeline that would require giving more personal information to more places. All to protect themselves from THEM. THEY are the government, big business, the Greys, whatever. Someone who can access all this juicy information and then use it to make your life miserable.
My response to this? Take off the tinfoil hats already. It's too late. The time has passed when you could be a functional member of American (or Canadian, or European, or Japanese, etc) society without leaving enough of an electronic papertrail that THEY can do whatever the hell THEY want if THEY put THEIR minds to it. Even moving to a tarpaper shack in the Rockies doesn't completely remove your electronic presence, and there's still physical surveillance if THEY really decide you're worth watching. If there really is some powerful organization out there interested in destroying your life, I claim they have the power to do so no matter what precautions you take, once you come to their interest (okay, I got tired of capitalizing THEM all the time).
It's certainly a risk of modern life. So is being shot by a mugger, but it's hard to function if you never leave your panic room. Someone who really wants to Get You will find a way, whether they want to erase your credit history or put some steel-jacketed lead in uncomfortable places. Refusing to participate in grocery clubs because it lets the store track your purchases is like refusing to leave the house without a flak jacket...excessive, and it won't help you if you're the main target anyway.
Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't take some reasonable precautions against casual abuse. Just because the corporate heads don't care if you buy a lot of peanut butter doesn't mean that some drone at a data entry desk won't decide to borrow your credit card number to make some 1-900-RUDEBOI calls. It annoys me that many major universities use Social Security numbers for Student/Faculty ID numbers, for instance, and whenever I'm asked for my ID number I try to make sure no one else can hear it. I shred those credit card money advance checks the credit card company sends me so that no dumpster diver can use them. And I don't give my phone number when checkout clerks ask (although that's largely because they should already have it or be able to get it, so why reward redundant behavior?). But I have a grocery club card, and I use it. I've registered with a number of sites to get at content. And I'm sure that if someone wanted to stalk me, they could figure out where I live without too much effort (okay, no effort at all...KSU publishes real addresses of all employees and grad students, which is another annoying thing).
If THEY want to get me, specifically, I'm probably hosed no matter what I do. In the meantime, I'm not going to pass up saving an average of 25% on my groceries just to make it a tiny bit harder for THEM to get me. Nor am I going to quit my job in protest over how much information Kansas State publishes about me...I need money to cover the other 75%, after all.
P.S. In the decade or so since writing this, I've been a victim
of credit card fraud thanks to a badly-secured fan club site, which was a
hassle but didn't cost me any actual money in the end. I still resist giving
out phone numbers or zip codes in the checkout line because I don't feel like
doing the store's market research for them.