California Just Released Your Personal Information

In connection with your California business entity, that is…

Last week, Alex Padilla, California’s Secretary of State, announced the launch of the newly designed California Business Search engine. Over 5,300,000 records were made public, which now includes potentially private information, such as certain names and addresses. For limited liability companies (LLCs), the names and addresses of the owners or the managers are now listed. For corporations, select officer positions now have the names and addresses listed of those who fill such positions. Given the sudden and drastic disclosures, although many are likely to see the move as a step towards transparency, others may otherwise see the change as an invasion of their privacy.

The updated site features; expanded search criteria, improved search capabilities, a new mobile-friendly design, daily data updates and the addition of information relating to Statements of Information of Records. Given the improved functionality of the system, the overhaul of the seemingly out-dated database appears to be an upgrade to the California Business Search division.

Although the updated user-friendly interface and easily accessible information will be welcomed by many, the publicizing of over 5 million filings may be less welcomed by others. This is not to say that such ownership information about a company that is registered to do business in California was not public before. Previously, it was possible to obtain more detailed information such as the names and addresses of the managers and officers of a business entity. However, to accomplish this, the only two options were to either submit a request by mail, or to show up in-person to the Sacramento office.

That’s now a thing of the past as the recent renovation publicizes an entities’ Statement of Information filing. This mandatory annual/biannual formality requires companies to list certain information regarding the identifying information of the managers or members of an LLC, along with information about the LLC’s management structure. Likewise, corporations are required to list some of the key officers of a corporation. All of this information and more is now just a click away from being accessible by anyone on the internet.

As has been the standard in the majority of states, and what has been the growing trend in other states, the details of a business entities‘ ownership/management information is usually easily accessible online by the public. Prior to California’s revamp of their Business Search database, the only information that was publicly displayed through a simple search was only the company’s; name, entity number, status, agent for service of process information and the company’s business address. This information is pretty much universally available in almost every other state as well.

Triumphed as a step towards greater transparency, the type of information that is now readily available to the public also includes the entity’s; principal office address and mailing address, the management structure of limited liability companies and the names and addresses of an LLC’s managers (or members if the company has no managers) and Chief Executive Officer, as well as the names and addresses for certain officers of a corporation such as the CEO, Secretary and Chief Financial Officer.

Of course, not everyone who’s a manager or an officer of a California business entity is affected by the change. California’s Secretary of State offers the option of providing a manager’s or officer’s “name and complete business or residential address” along with the Statement of Information. So, for those who had from the start always utilized a business address, rather than their home address, no records of their more personal information has been made publicly accessible.

The purpose behind wanting privacy when it comes to the information that is listed with your business varies from person to person and from industry to industry. Some business owners simply just don’t want their information on the internet; others may see it as a competitive strategy with hopes of keeping the company’s business structure hidden from a competitor. Whatever the reason, the truth is that there is not really an absolute way to make a businesses’ information completely private or anonymous. If someone has a purpose or desire to find out certain information, they will find it. It just may take more than just a quick database search.

California has never quite been seen as a “corporate haven”, especially when compared to other states, such as Delaware. This is due in part to California’s minimum annual franchise tax of $800. Now, the addition of easily accessible detailed information of a businesses’ ownership and management structure is likely to be considered as a step backwards from being able to lure out-of-state businesses to the nation’s most populated state.

Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming were once seen as the top privacy trio when it came to states that did not publicly provide the information of the owners or managers of a business entity in an easily accessible manner. Nevada has since made the names and addresses of directors, officers and managers public. However, Nevada is still seen as a favorable state with respect to preserving privacy, as the state allows “nominees” to be listed on the required Initial and Annual List, in place of the names of those who own and/or manage the business entity.

One state that has also been gaining plenty of attention among those who prioritize privacy concerns, strictly speaking towards a focus on the public listing of an entity’s owners or managers, is New Mexico. Going largely unnoticed by many entrepreneurs, New Mexico offers a wide range of unique and substantial benefits with respect to incorporating a business in the state.

One caveat to this is that the true benefit of privacy only exists with respect to New Mexico limited liability companies (with other entities such as corporations and limited partnerships not falling under this notion). In addition to New Mexico’s low filing fees ($50 for domestic LLCs), New Mexico does not record the names and/or addresses of the members or managers of LLCs on their initial filing, and New Mexico LLCs do not file Annual Reports. So, for an LLC in New Mexico, no member or manager information is ever listed on the state database.

Circling back to California, although it may be ideal to be able to choose which state you form your business entity in, choosing a state besides the one that the business will operate in, or in which the owner of the business lives in, is often not the optimal decision. Instead, this can often result in undesired consequences if the entity is not then registered in the proper state.

Before choosing which state to form your business entity in, it is important that you obtain all of the necessary information for you to be able to make an educated decision. Even if you do feel confident in your choices and even if you feel that you have done all of the research, it’s important that you contact a qualified business or corporate attorney to help guide you through the often complex legalities surrounding the formation of a valid and sustainable business entity.

For more information or to get started, contact Biletsky Law to help you with all your business and legal needs.