Private Internet Access is one of the best VPN services around, offering a slew of features and a low price tag, to boot. Although it doesn’t quite reach the ranks of a service like ExpressVPN, it puts up an impressive fight (read our ExpressVPN review). If you’re looking for a fast, full-featured VPN on the cheap, PIA is for you.
In this Private Internet Access review, we’re going to evaluate its features, security, speed, pricing and more. We signed up for an account, like anyone else would, to truly evaluate the user experience. From creating an account to getting connected, we’re going to cover every aspect of PIA.
If you want to skip all of the details, know that PIA is an elite VPN service that obliterates most of the competition. Although it has some issues when it comes to speed and access to streaming platforms, the pros far outweigh the cons. Plus, PIA has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can always get a refund if you find the service isn’t for you.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Large server network
- No-logs policy
- Easy to use
- Highly customizable
- Gets into Netflix
- WireGuard protocol
- Inconsistent speed
- Struggles with Hulu & Amazon
- No obfuscated OpenVPN protocol
Alternatives for Private Internet Access
For many years, PIA was a straightforward VPN without many features. Although the redesigned application still takes a streamlined approach to the connection process, there are now a lot more goodies to mess around with. PIA may not be as customizable as TorGuard, but given how easy it is to use, that hardly matters.
Starting with the kill switch, PIA gives you three options: off, auto and always. “Auto” is the default option, which will block your internet connection if the VPN fails while you’re connected. “Always” is a step up from that, blocking all internet traffic unless you’re connected to the VPN. We recommend this setting if you’re in a high-risk country.
You’re also given full control over your network settings as long as you’re using OpenVPN. You can use your own DNS servers, set up port forwarding, choose the remote port and more. We’ve seen these settings before, but not in such a digestible manner. PIA makes advanced configuration easy with helpful tooltips and a streamlined settings menu.
In addition to the VPN tunnel, you can also set up a proxy to redirect your traffic through another location. This is similar to a double-hop connection, though without the second layer of encryption. You can use the SOCKS5 protocol, but the big deal is that PIA has a number of Shadowsocks proxies available in the application.
Setting up a proxy in addition to your VPN is usually an arduous process for networking newbies. PIA makes it dead simple as long as you’re using Shadowsocks, though, allowing you to easily add an extra layer of protection when needed.
Split Tunneling and MACE
We are five paragraphs into this PIA review, and we still haven’t talked about the two features that set PIA apart: split tunneling and MACE. Starting with the former, you can specify which applications you want to use the VPN tunnel for and which you don’t. This is a great feature to have if, for example, you want your browser protected while running your online backup at full speed.
MACE is a lot more interesting, though. It’s basically an ad blocker, protecting you from annoying pop-ups, malware and cross-site trackers. It works differently than normal ad blockers, though. Most ad blockers work by blocking the request to an ad or tracking server using a known blacklist. MACE works differently.
Instead of blocking the request, MACE redirects the DNS request to your local IP address (read our guide on DNS records to see how that happens). In practice, that means the blocking process doesn’t take as long, as MACE doesn’t need to cross reference the blacklist before blocking the request.
PIA on Fire Stick, Routers and More
PIA has a fairly standard range of supported platforms, with native applications for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Linux, as well as browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. However, you can install PIA on just about any platform, not only because it makes its OpenVPN configuration files available, but also because you can download the Android APK.
Instead of restricting the Android app to the Google Play store, PIA makes its APK openly available, which opens a lot of possibilities. For example, you can sideload the app on an Amazon Fire Stick or Nvidia Shield, which would otherwise not have access to the VPN.
If, for some reason, there’s a device you can’t get PIA running on, you can always install it on your router (that’ll count as only a single device against your simultaneous connection limit, no matter how many devices are connected to your network). PIA supports most router firmwares and provides detailed guides on how to get set up.
Private Internet Access Features Overview
Starts from$ 333per month
PayPal, Credit card
Worldwide server amount
Windows, MacOS, Linux
Chrome, Firefox, Opera
Can be installed on routers
Can access Amazon Prime Video
VPN protocols available
OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, WireGuard, SOCKS5 proxy
Enabled at device startup
Malware/ad blocker included
PIA is one of the cheapest VPNs around, putting even CyberGhost to shame (read our CyberGhost review). Compared to services like Astrill and Hide.me, the difference is clear. Private Internet Access is one of the cheapest VPNs around, and although its prices aren’t as low as Windscribe, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal elsewhere.
We don’t say that based on the monthly price, though; for around $10 per month, PIA is cheaper than ExpressVPN and NordVPN, though only by a few dollars. That said, the monthly plan still wins the pricing game compared to other top-tier VPN providers with 10 simultaneous connections.
The savings is most clearly showcased with the yearly plan, which provides protection for less than $40. Furthermore, PIA often offers promotions on its annual plan (right now, new customers get 14 months of service for the price of 12). If you’re interested in Private Internet Access, the annual plan is the way to go.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the six-month plan. At only $4 less than the annual plan, this option doesn’t make sense. The annual option is clearly a better choice, and it seems PIA knows that. We’d much prefer this plan done away with in favor of a two-year plan that offers a steeper discount.
In the past, PIA’s bargain-bin pricing always came with a big caveat: a short refund period. Thankfully, this issue has been solved. Private Internet Access now offers a full, fat 30 days to receive a refund, no matter what plan you choose.
For payment, PIA accepts credit cards and PayPal, as well as bitcoin. There are multiple other crypto options, and even Amazon Pay, so no matter how you want to send your money, there’s an option for you.
PIA has a strange relationship with user-friendliness. On one hand, the app is very accessible, detailing complex information with ease and allowing you to connect quickly. However, it’s tied to the tray in Windows, meaning a misclick outside of the app will close it.
Let’s start at the top, though. PIA’s website, although a little dated, is easy to get around. All you need to do to sign up is click the “join now” button. It requires very little information of you, and once you’re done, you can click the “download” tab to find an installer. We like that the download page is accessible from the homepage, leaving no questions about how to get started.
The Windows Client
As we mentioned earlier, the PIA client is tied to the tray in Windows, and that’s where it’ll start once the installer has finished. The interface is minimal, showing a recommended location and a large “on” button. Clicking that, you’ll get connected to the closest server, which is usually the best.
If you want to see a little more information, you can expand the interface to show quick connection options, your speed, some quick settings, your usage and even a VPN snooze feature. Furthermore, you can drag any of these elements up to the main screen so they’ll display without having to expand the interface.
We love the modular approach, but it doesn’t make sense to customize an interface that’s tied to your tray. With how PIA designed its app, it’ll be closed far more often than it’ll be open, making the extra information you can add to the home screen obsolete. Thankfully, you can undock the app in the settings, making it far more useful.
Speaking of settings, you can access them by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner of the app. The settings window is easy to get around and smartly laid out. It stands apart with excellent tooltips, though. Complex settings are fully explained, all without sacrificing the ease of use.
PIA isn’t perfect when it comes to ease of use, as you have to adjust a few settings to get it working properly. However, once you get it set how you like, there’s nothing quite like it. PIA manages to offer the detail and flexibility of a VPN service like TorGuard with the same accessibility of a service like ExpressVPN (read our TorGuard review).
PIA on Android
On Android, PIA is more of the same. Like ExpressVPN, the Windows app already feels like a mobile app, so the experience is mirrored on your phone. You don’t have to deal with the tray on Android, though, which is why PIA made our list of the top VPNs for Android.
PIA can be a fast VPN service, so long as you choose the correct location. We tried out five locations and compared them to our baseline speed using the default settings in the app (OpenVPN UDP with AES-128-GCM and RSA-2048). You can find those results in the table below.
|New York City||35||92.63||20.29|
This out-of-the-box performance is what we’ve come to expect from PIA. Speeds close to home are pretty good, media hubs like Japan and London perform ever better, and underdeveloped areas like India perform pretty horribly, though they are growing quickly.
In short, PIA is fast in the vast majority of use cases, though your mileage may vary if you’re trying to connect outside of a media hub.
We usually test with AES-256-GCM and RSA-4096 when given the option, so we reran our critical locations using that setup with OpenVPN. Given how fast modern systems are, the larger key size shouldn’t impact the speed much. However, it did, just not in the way we expected.
|Location:||Ping (ms||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (St. Louis)||8||438.45||21.38|
|New York City||32||123.3||18.42|
With AES-256-GCM and RSA-4096, we actually saw a performance improvement: as much as 50 percent in some locations.
AES can take advantage of many cores, and we assume that’s what’s going on here. Still, both are based on a 128-bit block size, so there shouldn’t be such a stark performance improvement. Regardless, this is the setup we recommend for security, and it just so happens to be the fastest, too.
Finally, we ran the same batch of locations using the WireGuard protocol, which PIA — along with services like NordVPN and TorGuard — supports. According to the in-app tooltip, this is a “newer, more efficient protocol” compared to OpenVPN. Unfortunately, our test results don’t back that up.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (St. Louis)||8||438.45||21.38|
|New York City||33||114.26||20.66|
Our results are mostly the same as OpenVPN with AES-128, with some slight differences. We gained download speed in New York City while losing some in London, but latency and upload speeds were almost identical. It’s worth noting that PIA is still testing WireGuard, though. It’s available in the application, but it’s still a “preview” feature, so keep that in mind.
Considering all of the data, we have more questions than answers. Its out-of-the-box performance is good, though not the fastest we’ve seen, while the higher key sizes for RSA and AES boost performance significantly, at least with multiple CPU threads.
As long as you have a modern machine, we recommend OpenVPN UDP with AES-256-GCM and RSA-4096 for speed and security. That said, it’s worthwhile experimenting with other setups.
In the case of Private Internet Access, our speed tests provide a perfect segway into security. There’s a lot to unpack here, despite the fact that PIA doesn’t support the slew of protocols of a service like VyprVPN (read our VyprVPN review). Before getting to that, though, let’s talk about encryption.
AES-128-GCM is what you get out of the box, with RSA-2048 as the handshake algorithm. For most situations, the lower key sizes are fine and should increase performance (though our speed test data doesn’t back up that claim). You can bump up the key sizes if you’re worried, though (read our description of encryption to learn about the effect that’ll have).
VPN Protocol Support
These encryption options are available for OpenVPN alone, which is the default VPN protocol. You have the choice between UDP and TCP, with UDP being the default option. TCP is a good choice in some situations, which we’ll get into in the next section. OpenVPN is usually the best choice, as you can see in our VPN protocol breakdown.
Additionally, PIA offers the newer WireGuard protocol, which a number of VPNs have already implemented (NordVPN, TorGuard and Mullvad, to name a few). WireGuard uses a single encryption suite, unlike OpenVPN. In practice, that means it can’t change between transport protocols and encryption algorithms like OpenVPN can.
That may seem like a downside, but as long as the encryption is up to snuff, it’s a benefit. By using a single encryption suite, WireGuard has less overhead, which should make it faster, more efficient and even safer. WireGuard is the long-awaited answer to OpenVPN that actually improves on the gold standard that VPN services have been using for decades.
It’s the answer, but not one that’s fully realized yet. The official WireGuard website makes no bones about the fact that the protocol is a work in progress that’s still experiencing “heavy development.” We like that PIA is being forward thinking in its protocol implementation. For the end user, though, we recommend sticking with OpenVPN until WireGuard improves more.
OpenVPN and WireGuard are the only protocol options you’ll find in the application, though PIA supports more. Legacy support comes in the form of L2TP/IPSec, PPTP and a straight-up SOCKS5 proxy (read our VPN vs proxy vs Tor guide to learn about that last one). These options are only available through a manual setup, though.
PIA in China
Now that we’ve gone over the technical aspects of PIA’s security system, it’s time to put it into practice. In high-risk countries, like China, PIA is a solid choice as long as you’re using OpenVPN with TCP. TCP provides packet confirmation, meaning you’ll know if a censor has caught wind of your connection before it can get you into trouble.
Still, we didn’t include Private Internet Access in our best VPN for China guide. Although it should keep you safe, PIA doesn’t include any sort of encapsulated OpenVPN option, like Astrill and VyprVPN do. With OpenVPN, you should be fine. That said, packet obfuscation is a nice feature to have in China and other high-risk countries.
However, PIA does include the option to configure a Shadowsocks proxy with your VPN connection, which was designed specifically to bypass censorship in China.
Torrenting With PIA
If you’re not traveling and you live in a country with decent privacy laws, the riskiest thing you’ll likely do with your VPN is torrent. PIA is a fine choice for the task, earning a spot alongside our top VPNs for torrenting. We should remind you, though, that torrenting copyrighted content is illegal in most countries.
Private Internet Access isn’t doing anything special. There aren’t any dedicated peer-to-peer servers or special security features for torrenters. You can establish a P2P on any server in PIA’s network, so torrenting is fair game, no matter where in the world you are or where you want to connect. Combined with the speed and security of PIA, it’s one of the better options for digital pirates.
Starting at the top, PIA lays out what information it collects. As far as the VPN application is concerned, PIA keeps your email address and payment information on record. Both are required to keep the service running, though PIA takes steps to reduce the potential security risk of storing this data. For example, your payment information isn’t kept on record in full.
That’s where the collection ends, though. Private Internet Access makes it clear that it “does not collect or log any traffic or use of its virtual private network.” When using the VPN service, your source IP address, destination IP address, browsing history and geographic location are protected.
The problem is that PIA is based in the U.S., with its headquarters in Colorado. Unfortunately, the U.S. has few laws that protect online privacy. With PIA’s no-logging track record, though, that’s not an issue.
In fact, PIA was required to produce logs under a subpoena in 2016. Its parent company, London Trust Media, received a notice from the FBI that a user on PIA had threatened to use a bomb.
PIA had nothing to hand over, thankfully. This isn’t a case of London Trust simply saying it keeps no logs; handing nothing over when there are records could get PIA is serious trouble. In short, your information is safe with PIA.
Private Internet Access is truly a no-logs service, as shown in the 2016 case. It also maintains a transparency report, which it publishes twice a year and updates periodically. The current report, which was last updated in March 2020, shows six subpoenas to produce logs, and in all six cases, PIA handed over nothing.
Streaming performance wasn’t great for PIA during our testing. Although it earned a spot in our top VPNs for streaming guide, it can’t access all online services. That said, it works great with Netflix, so if that’s what you’re after, it’s a fine choice.
We tested a handful of locations with Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, and we were blocked in most cases. Hulu was more forgiving, letting three of the 10 servers we tested through. Prime Video, on the other hand, only let in one. Read our Hulu VPN and Prime Video VPN guides if you’re interested in those platforms. Thankfully, we encountered no issues with BBC iPlayer.
Streaming Netflix With PIA
Netflix is the top dog of the streaming space, and for PIA, that’s a good thing. From our first location, we were able to access Netflix without any proxy errors. If you’re looking for a Netflix VPN, Private Internet Access does the trick. However, there are better options when it comes to speed.
Private Internet Access has a massive server network, with nearly 3,400 servers spread across 64 locations in 44 countries. Of course, the number of servers fluctuates, so take the 3,400 mark with a grain of salt.
PIA’s network is impressive, but it’s not the largest we’ve seen, with options like HideMyAss and NordVPN offering nearly twice the server count (read our HideMyAss review and NordVPN review).
Those extra servers from HMA and NordVPN come from virtual locations. Essentially, you’ll tunnel through a country like the UK or the Netherlands and spoof a more remote location. This practice not only bolsters the server count, but also provides access to locations where existing infrastructure may not exist.
It also comes with security risks, though. Thankfully, PIA doesn’t meddle in any of that. Every server in its network is a real, bare-metal server in the location listed in the application. No matter if you’re tunneling to the Netherlands or South Africa, you’re connecting a physical server in that location.
The fact that PIA has such a massive network of bare-metal servers is impressive. That said, virtual servers have the benefit of accessing more remote locations, which PIA’s approach can’t contend with. As long as you don’t need an IP address from a small village in Alaska, though, you should be fine.
PIA has solid support when it works. During our testing, we encountered a few 503 errors when trying to access the knowledgebase, signifying that the service it’s hosted on was down. Unfortunately, we were unable to confirm this. The server status page only shows the VPN servers in PIA’s network, and the PIA support Twitter was of little help.
Still, PIA has some solid contact options. On the website, you can fill out a ticket form to contact PIA about issues relating to your account, payment or technical problems. The contact page is excellent, providing additional self-help resources while also letting you skip the hoopla and submit a ticket right away.
PIA offers live chat, too, as well as bustling social pages. There’s a subreddit with nearly 10,000 members, as well as an active support Twitter. Between the two, you can get answers to questions within minutes, sometimes speaking directly to developers or QA testers.
Although live chat support is nice to have, it isn’t usually all too helpful. In most cases, a live chat rep will simply point you toward the knowledgebase or contact page. PIA’s approach provides the same instantaneous response while letting you to talk to people who know what’s what.
Digging through the replies, we found PIA responding to not only support requests, but also to general praise surrounding the VPN service.
We’d like to see more VPN providers embrace the flexibility that social support offers. As we’ve seen with other aspects of PIA — such as the inclusion of WireGuard — it’s a very forward-thinking service, and that’s a good thing when it comes to customer service.
PIA is a VPN that gets a lot right, from the exceptional ease of use to the long list of features. It’s not perfect, though, with mediocre streaming performance and some inconsistent speed. Thankfully, those issues are easy to look past, considering how inexpensive PIA is and how much the VPN has to offer.
Are you going to give Private Internet Access a shot? Let us know about your experience in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.
Private Internet Access FAQ
Is Private Internet Access a Good VPN?
Yes, Private Internet Access is one of the best VPNs on the market. It offers excellent features and usability, and is cheaper than most other VPN options. That said, its speed is a little inconsistent and it has trouble accessing streaming platforms.
Does Private Internet Access Keep Logs?
No, Private Internet Access does not keep logs. Although it’s based in the U.S., PIA has proven time and again that it doesn’t log user data. To demonstrate this, PIA maintains a transparency report that shows how many times it has received a subpoena, as well as how many times it has responded with no logs.
What Is Private Internet Access Used For?
Private Internet Access is a VPN service that encrypts your internet traffic and spoofs your IP address. It can be used for a variety of purposes, though VPNs are most commonly used for torrenting and accessing streaming platforms in different parts of the world.
Private Internet Access Review
A fast, no-frills service.
If you're looking for a fast, no-frills VPN service, Private Internet Access deserves your attention. It does what it needs to, no questions asked, though we do wish PIA had a little less trouble getting into Netflix and other streaming services. Read our full review to know more.
Private Internet Access Review
A fast, no-frills service.
If you're looking for a fast, no-frills VPN service, Private Internet Access deserves your attention. It does what it needs to, no questions asked, though we do wish PIA had a little less trouble getting into Netflix and other streaming services. Read our full review to know more.
Private Internet Access has announced plans to sell out to Kape Technologies. Kape was formerly named Crossrider and has a history or producing malware and adware. You can read more in my article on PIA, Kape, and Crossrider.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the biggest VPN services on the market, with a long track record going back many years.
While it is affordable and has good performance, it also comes with some drawbacks that we’ll cover in detail below.
In this Private Internet Access review, we will go in-depth to examine all aspects of the service and test its performance and security.
Private Internet Access Overview
Here is a brief overview of the test results and research findings for this PIA review:
Pros of Private Internet Access:
- Good speeds throughout server network
- Secure apps (no leaks identified in testing)
- Good privacy and security features, including ad blocking
- Tested and proven no logs VPN provider
- Updated, user-friendly apps
- Great prices
Cons of Private Internet Access:
- Based in the United States (bad privacy jurisdiction; five eyes)
- The CTO of PIA is Mark Karpeles, a convicted criminal involved in the infamous Mt. Gox collapse and Bitcoin heist.
Additional research findings:
- PIA is owned by London Trust Media (Denver, Colorado)
- Smaller server network; no virtual server locations identified
- Does PIA work well for torrenting? (Yes)
- Does PIA work well with streaming Netflix? (No)
- PIA support tests
Private Internet Access Pros
1. Good speed test results
I ran Private Internet Access through dozens of speed tests for this review, and the results were pretty good. For all speed tests, I used the OpenVPN protocol with 256-bit AES encryption. My baseline connection speed was approximate 150 Mbps download (10 Mbps upload) and my physical testing location was Germany.
Nearby PIA servers (Europe)
First, I tested nearby PIA servers in Western Europe. Here I’m pulling about 85 Mbps with a PIA server in Austria.
Next up was Sweden at about 74 Mbps:
And finally I ran some tests with servers in the UK where I was getting about 65 Mbps.
These are pretty decent speeds for nearby servers, although not quite as fast as ExpressVPN, which gave me over 90 Mbps with all nearby servers.
Long distance servers (United States and Canada)
I also ran some speed tests for Private Internet Access servers in the United States and Canada. Once again, speeds were pretty good, although certainly not the fastest I’ve tested. Note that slower speeds are to be expected due to the longer distance and higher latency.
First up was a PIA server in Chicago, where my download speed was about 67 Mbps:
Next up was Denver where I was getting about 55 Mbps.
And finally, I also tested a Private Internet Access server in New York, which gave me about 63 Mbps:
Speed tests were similar for PIA servers in Montreal and Toronto.
Overall the speed tests were pretty good, although PIA does not offer the performance of some of the other VPNs I’ve tested, such as ExpressVPN.
2. PIA has secure VPN apps (no leaks identified)
Private Internet Access also performed well in all security and privacy tests. I ran both the Windows and Mac OS clients through VPN tests and checks to identify leaks or broken features.
Here I’m testing the PIA Windows client for leaks while connected to a server in Sweden. You can see that there were no leaks to be found, with my real IPv6 address being blocked (PIA does not support IPv6).
No leaks were found with the PIA Windows client.
I also tested the PIA Mac OS client and found it to be secure and without leaks. Although I’m not sure I would consider PIA to be one of the best VPNs for Mac, it may still be a decent choice for Mac users.
PIA also implements a good kill switch with their VPN apps, which will block traffic if the VPN connection drops for any reason. This ensures all traffic remains encrypted and protected by the VPN tunnel.
The PIA kill switch has three levels:
- Off: does not block any traffic
- Auto: blocks outside traffic when the VPN is on
- Always: Also blocks all traffic when the VPN is off
In testing out the kill switch with various interruptions, everything appeared to work well.
If you are using PIA, I’d recommend setting the VPN killswitch to “Always” mode. If you have the killswitch on Auto, and your Windows machine wakes up from sleep, traffic will not be blocked, even if the VPN client is running. With “Always” selected, however, all non-VPN traffic is effectively blocked.
Overall, PIA does very well in terms of security. Both the Windows and Mac OS VPN clients effectively block traffic, keep your data safe, and have leak protection features that work well.
3. Good privacy and security features, including ad blocking
Despite being a basic VPN service, Private Internet Access still offers some good privacy and security features.
In addition to the multi-level kill switch we discussed above, PIA also provides:
- Various data encryption options
- An ad blocking feature called PIA MACE
Being able to adjust your encryption settings is useful for optimizing performance and configuring the VPN to your unique privacy and security needs. As you can see with the PIA app I was testing below, you have the ability to modify:
- Data Encryption (from AES-128 to AES-256)
- Data Authentication (enabled if you are using the AES-CBC cipher)
- Handshake (RSA and ECC)
PIA MAC ad blocker
Another good feature offered by PIA is the ad blocker, which they call PIA MACE.
PIA MACE blocks domains for advertisements, trackers, and malware. Unlike some other ad blocker options, PIA MACE does not have the ability to white list certain domains, or adjust the filter settings. It is simply On or Off.
PIA MACE: a basic ad/tracking blocker.
While some ad blocker is better than no ad blocker, I would not recommend using PIA MAC as your primary ad blocker. When I tested different VPN ad blockers, I found that PIA’s ad blocker did not block as many domains as other options. Using a large list of advertising and malware domains (from various public sources), PIA MACE only blocked:
- 28% of advertising domains
- 37% of malware domains
In terms of VPN ad blockers, NordVPN and Perfect Privacy performed better than PIA, while PureVPN and CyberGhost performed the worst.
Overall, PIA does well in terms of security and privacy features, even if the ad blocker is not very robust.
4. PIA is a tested and proven “no logs” VPN provider
Many VPN services claim to be “no logs” – but few have actually been tested and/or verified.
Private Internet Access is one of the few verified no logs VPN services that has survived real-world tests. There were two separate court cases where Private Internet Access was subpoenaed for data logs, but they could not provide any information.
The first court case occurred in 2016 when the FBI demanded logs concerning a PIA user who had allegedly been making bomb threats. As discussed in official court records, the only information PIA was able to provide was a cluster of VPN IP addresses that were allegedly used for the crime:
A subpoena was sent to London Trust Media [Private Internet Access] and the only information they could provide is that the cluster of IP addresses being used was from the east coast of the United States.
The second court case occurred in June 2018, when US authorities again demanded data logs for a criminal investigation. Once again, however, PIA was not able to provide any data on the accused VPN user:
John Allan Arsenault, general counsel for London Trust Media, a VPN company, testified about how many VPN companies, including his, intentionally don’t retain logs of internet activity of their clients so that they cannot be produced in response to subpoenas from law enforcement or others. London Trust Media operates the brand Private Internet Access (PIA), which owns several IP addresses used to hack Embarcadero Media.
Private Internet Access does not log user activity, such as what files they accessed or changes they made to a website.
While PIA has not undergone an audit to verify their “no logs” policies, such as with NordVPN and VyprVPN, these two court cases certainly validate their claims.
Court cases are indeed a good test to verify logging claims. After all, a court case involving an alleged cyberstalker revealed that PureVPN had been logging customer data and handing it over to US authorities, despite claiming to be a “no logs” VPN service.
5. Updated and user-friendly VPN apps
The new PIA VPN apps that I tested for this review are a huge improvement over the old versions. In addition to looking good, the updated VPN apps I tested are user-friendly, customizable, and well designed.
Below you can see the PIA Windows client which expands or collapses to reveal more settings and options. Here is the collapsed version displaying basic connection info:
In addition to all the features we covered above, the new PIA VPN client also has:
- Light and dark modes (dark mode pictured above)
- Settings to launch VPN client on system startup
- Connect on launch settings
- Different language settings
- Customizable DNS options
- Port forwarding
I tested version 1.1.1 for this PIA review and consider this a large improvement over the previous design.
6. PIA has great prices (and an average refund policy)
Private Internet Access has always been among the the best cheap VPN services on the market, with very affordable prices.
In March 2019, PIA updated their pricing and subscription plans, with the two-year rate going from $2.91 per month up to $3.49. They explained the reasoning for the price increase on their website as follows:
This price increase will allow us the ability to provide you with new features without sacrificing security or privacy. Visible changes include the new look of our Desktop application as well as the increase of our device limit from 5 to 10.
The price increases are probably a good thing for the long-term sustainability of the VPN service. When a VPN’s prices get too cheap, the service usually suffers in terms of features, updates, support, and network (speed) issues.
Increasing the connections from 5 to 10 is also a good justification for increasing prices. Another VPN that offers 10 connections is IPVanish, but it’s still quite a bit more expensive than PIA.
Anonymous payment options
Another benefit of PIA is that they support many different anonymous payment options. These include various cryptocurrencies as well as gift cards, which can be purchased anonymously with cash.
PIA is one of the best options if you want to pay for your VPN anonymously. PIA is not a VPN with a free trial, but they do offer a refund window.
PIA refund policy
Private Internet Access describes their refund policy on their website as follows:
If you are less than 100% satisfied with the PrivateInternetAccess VPN service, we will gladly refund your payment if the refund is requested within seven (7) days from the date of the initial purchase (not including upgrades, manual or automatic renewals). Requests made later than the 7 day purchase date window will be denied.
A seven day refund policy is about average for the VPN industry. I have also seen complaints on the PIA reddit forum about users who were denied refunds on auto-renewal subscriptions they forgot about.
There are certainly better refund policies out there, such as with ExpressVPN, which offers a full 30 day money-back guarantee, no questions asked. NordVPN also offers a 30 day money-back guarantee, as well as a free trial (described on the NordVPN coupon page).
Private Internet Access Cons
Now that we’ve covered some of the pros of PIA, we’ll look at the cons.
1. Based in the United States (bad privacy jurisdiction)
While Private Internet Access does well in many areas, one major drawback is the jurisdiction.
PIA is based in the United States, which is a member of the five eyes surveillance alliance. Here are a few reasons why the US is not a very good jurisdiction:
- The US government can legally force businesses to secretly log customer data and provide this to authorities. Additionally, authorities can also issue gag orders, thereby prohibiting the business from alerting its customers to privacy violations (see National Security Letters).
- Various branches of the US government have broad authority to carry out mass surveillance on all internet communications.
- Many tech companies are working with the US government for the collection and sharing of private data (see the PRISM program). (See the case of Lavabit, which was forced to shut down for not cooperating with the US government.)
These topics are also important when choosing a good VPN for USA to avoid risks.
How important is jurisdiction?
Ultimately, the answer is that it depends on your unique needs and threat model, which you should consider when selecting the best VPN service for your needs. Many people disagree about the importance of jurisdiction, and the answer is not entirely clear, simply because we cannot see what’s going on behind the scenes.
On a positive note, however, PIA is a verified no logs VPN provider, as we discussed above. Therefore they should not have any data which would be available to authorities anyway. Nonetheless, as a business operating in the United States, PIA is still obligated to comply with all US laws, regulations, and court orders – or shut down like Lavabit in 2013.
2. Mark Karpeles (of Mt. Gox fame) is the CTO of PIA
For reasons that are not entirely clear, some of the higher-ups at Private Internet Access decided to hire Mark Karpeles as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) in April 2018.
To understand why this was upsetting to many PIA users, we’ll just take a quick look at Mark Karpeles.
Mark Karpeles was running Mt. Gox in 2014 when it suddenly collapsed, with millions of dollars in Bitcoins disappearing. Karpeles was subsequently arrested in Japan and charged with fraud and embezzlement. As to where all the Bitcoins that were stored at Mt. Gox ended up, nobody seems to know:
650,000 bitcoins remain unaccounted for as a result of the Mt. Gox hack. A number of online theories have been developed as to where the missing coins are. Some have suggested that Mt. Gox never had the amount of coins that it claimed, and that Karpelés had manipulated the numbers to make it appear that Mt. Gox held more bitcoin than it in fact held.
In March 2019, Karpeles was found guilty of tampering with financial records in a Japanese court:
Mark Karpeles, a central figure in the early days of Bitcoin who presided over the dramatic 2014 collapse of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, was found guilty of tampering with financial records but will likely avoid jail time after receiving a suspended sentence.
The former Mt. Gox chief executive officer sometimes mixed his personal finances with those of the exchange and fiddled with its accounts, apparently to hide the fact that the platform had lost money to hackers, the Tokyo District Court said on Friday. The court cleared Karpeles of embezzlement charges, concluding that the 33-year-old Frenchman had acted without ill intent.
Karpeles, who wore a dark suit in court and bowed to the judge before his sentence was handed down, wasn’t on trial for the mysterious disappearance of Bitcoins that led to Mt. Gox’s implosion. He was given a 2 1/2 year suspended sentence, which he won’t have to serve unless he commits another violation within four years.
“The charge of electronic record tampering is true and deserves punishment, but there’s no criminal evidence of embezzlement,” the court said in its verdict. It blamed Karpeles for “massive harm to the trust of his users,” saying “there is no excuse for the defendant, who is an engineer with expert knowledge, to abuse his status and authority to perform clever criminal acts.”
Due to the controversy that erupted in various forums after Karpeles joined PIA, Andrew Lee (co-founder of PIA) wrote a blog post where he explained his reasoning. The post discusses “Mistakes, Forgiveness and Human Progress” – but that may not be enough for PIA users who trust the company with securing their private data.
Choosing a VPN is all about trust. With this in mind, hiring Karpeles was probably not the best idea, especially now that he is a convicted criminal.
Additional research findings:
Below are additional findings from my research of PIA for this review.
PIA and London Trust Media (background info)
PIA is owned by a company called London Trust Media, Inc. Despite the name, it’s an American company that appears to be located in Denver, Colorado, based on public records:
The receipt for my subscription of PIA also confirmed the location of London Trust Media being in Denver.
In addition to Private Internet Access, London Trust Media also owns Linux Journal, IRC.com, freenode, and a variety of other brands.
Private Internet Access server network
Private Internet Access currently has about 3,300 servers in 32 countries.
This isn’t quite as large as some other VPN providers, but the speed test results were still pretty good.
I ran a few tests to look for virtual server locations, where the advertised location does not match up with the true physical location of the server. Everything checked out and it does not appear that PIA uses any virtual server locations.
The majority of PIA’s servers are in the United States, which likely reflects their user base. If you want a VPN with more server locations around the world, ExpressVPN or perhaps NordVPN may be worth considering.
Does PIA work well for torrenting? (Yes)
PIA may also be a good choice if you need a safe VPN for torrenting. Here are three reasons why:
- No logs
- Good speeds
- Port forwarding option
As PIA describes on their website, the port forwarding feature may be beneficial if you are looking to optimize torrenting performance.
Port forwarding is available in the Windows, Mac OS, and Android VPN clients. To use port forwarding, you need to enable the option in the advanced settings area, and then connect to one of the PIA servers that support port forwarding.
One drawback for torrenting is (once again) the US jurisdiction. The US has very strict copyright violation laws (DMCA) and many large media companies that go after people for copyright infringement. Using a VPN in an offshore jurisdiction may be safer, as they would not need to comply with copyright infringement laws or deal with DMCA issues.
Does PIA work with Netflix? (Not for me)
Many people want to use a VPN with Netflix, especially those living abroad who want to stream American Netflix.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that Private Internet Access is a good VPN for Netflix. I tested a few different servers in the US and was blocked out:
Netflix is not working with Private Internet Access.
Private Internet Access may get through with some servers, but certainly not the ones I tried to use. It is not the best VPN for Netflix by a long shot. Consider using alternatives.
It’s also important to note that the Netflix VPN issue is always a cat and mouse game that continues to evolve. Even though I could not access Netflix with Private Internet Access, there may be a few servers in the network that are getting through (but I gave up). Two of the best VPNs for Netflix are NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
PIA support tests
Private Internet Access offers email (ticket) support. Unfortunately, there is no option for live chat at this time.
I tested out PIA’s support department with a few random questions. My email inquiries were all handled on the same day. One was even sent on a Saturday, which I was expecting to be delayed due to the weekend, but I heard back within a few hours.
In past reviews, PIA did very poorly in the support category. My questions and refund request went many days without reply. Since that time, PIA has overhauled their support department and it shows with the improved response times.
UPDATE: One drawback was with the refund, which took about two weeks!
Private Internet Access review conclusion
Private Internet Access has made huge improvements since the last time I reviewed their service. In the last review, support was abysmal, speeds were very mediocre, and their reddit forum was flooded with angry customers demanding refunds. Since then, a lot has changed:
- PIA speeds are now better
- PIA’s updated apps are a big improvement over the old design
- The kill switch and leak protection features work very well
- Support is responsive and helpful (much better than last year)
If you are looking for a basic cheap VPN service that offers good performance and security, Private Internet Access may be a good fit. Although the jurisdiction in the United States is a drawback, PIA is a verified no logs VPN provider with a good track record.
To get the best deal on PIA, check out the 65% discount on two-year plans.
If you’re open to alternatives, I’ve reviewed many of the best VPN services available and there are many different options to consider.
If you have used Private Internet Access (PIA), feel free to share your review below.
A likeable VPN which gives you plenty for your money: a wide range of feature-packed apps, instant Netflix unblocking, some very useful expert-level tweaks, and a decent-sized network which is very fast in many areas.
- Lots of features
- Hugely configurable
- Unblocks Netflix
- Decent value
- Can't unblock iPlayer
- No live chat support
- No trial
Private Internet Access (commonly known as PIA) is a capable VPN provider, now owned by Private Internet (formerly known as KAPE), who also owns CyberGhost and ZenMate.
PIA's network provides 3,300+ P2P-friendly servers in 30 countries. That's reasonable, though down on our last review as the company has dropped its South Africa and Brazil locations.
Wide platform support includes apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, and there are detailed setup tutorials for routers and many other device types.
ou're able to connect up to 10 devices simultaneously. That's twice the allowance you'll get with most VPNs, although Windscribe, Surfshark and a few others have no limit at all.
Extras range from the simple and straightforward (built-in blocking of ads, trackers and known malicious websites) to the more low-level and technical (a SOCKS5 proxy for extra speed, port forwarding support, the ability to select your preferred encryption, authentication and handshaking methods), and there's 24/7 support (though not via live chat) to help solve any problems.
New app features since our last review include a simple private browser for iOS, where all your session data is wiped once the app closes. A command line app for Windows, Linux and Mac enables automating VPN operations from scripts. Shadowsocks support may help you get connected in countries which block VPNs, a Snooze option enables temporarily disconnecting the VPN, and there are a bunch of smaller tweaks and fixes (more on those later.)
PIA's commitment to open source is looking better than ever, too. Its Android app is the latest to be released, and developers can check out its source code (and the iOS app, and the Windows clients, and the browser extensions and more) on.
(This review is purely about PIA's VPN, but if you're interested in corporate affairs, check out our interview with Private Internet's COO, Daniel Sagi.)
Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.
- 10 new countries have been added for a total of 41 server locations. (April 2020)
- WireGuard is now available to all PIA users (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS). (April 2020)
- Server coverage increased to 46 countries. (May 2020)
- The 1-year plan now gives an additional two months free. (May 2020)
- Server coverage increased to 48 countries. (June 2020)
- Private Internet Access now offers 24/7 live chat customer support. (June 2020)
Private Internet Access supports a wide variety of payment methods including PayPal and even Bitcoin (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
Plans and pricing
The Private Internet Access monthly plan is priced at an average $9.95. The six-month plan is a mild improvement at $5.99, but pay for a year upfront and the price plummets to just $3.33. There are marginally cheaper deals around – CyberGhost, VPN Unlimited, and Surfshark all offer plans under $3 – but you may have to sign up for two or three years to get them.
If all that sounds appealing, you even get more choice of payment methods than usual, with support for cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, gift cards and more.
There's no free trial, but the money-back guarantee has now risen from the previous and way-too-short 7 days, to a much more acceptable 30.
PIA's Terms and Services has another surprise (and unusually for small print, it's a good one.) Maybe VPNs say customers are only allowed one refund, ever. Private Internet Access says that if you purchase a new account more than three months after the last refund, you're eligible for another. That's unusually generous, but seems fair to us. If you try out a VPN and the service doesn't work for you, it shouldn't matter if you had a refund three years ago - you ought to have the same money-back rights as everybody else.
Private Internet Access includes both DNS and IPv6 leak protection to help shield your activities online (Image credit: ProxyRack)
This VPN's privacy features start with its use of the highly secure OpenVPN protocol on desktop and mobile devices. That does a lot to protect you, all on its own, but experts can go further, tweaking protocol settings to suit their needs. In a click or two you're able to set encryption type (AES-128 or 256, CBC or GCM, maybe turn off encryption entirely if you're just after speed), data authentication and handshake methods (RSA-2048-RSA-4096), choose the connection type and set local or remote ports.
PIA's MACE feature blocks access to domains used by ads, trackers and malware, giving you an extra layer of protection.
Private Internet Access provides its own DNS to reduce the chance of DNS leaks. The apps are flexible, though – the Windows client can be set to use your default DNS, or any custom DNS of your choice.
Private Internet Access managed to protect all of our data from leaking in the DNS leak tests we performed (Image credit: DNS Leak Test)
There's also a kill switch to disable your internet access if the VPN drops. Unlike some of the competition, this isn't only available on the desktop – the iOS and Android clients get it, too.
Get connected with the Chrome extension and you'll find a bunch of bonus privacy features (block location access, third-party cookies, website referrers and more). You could set these up separately and for free, but the extensions make it easier and they do add worthwhile extra layers of protection.
Perhaps best of all, Private Internet Access has open-sourced its desktop clients, mobile apps and many other components and libraries. This allows other developers to freely examine the source code, assess its quality, report bugs, and maybe check to see whether it's doing anything which might compromise the user's privacy.
Private Internet Access keeps no logs on its users (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
While most VPN's claim they don't log customer activities or traffic, there's rarely much to back this up. You're expected to cross your fingers and trust they're being honest.
Private Internet Access is far more confident, claiming to be 'verified' as 'the only proven no-log VPN service.'
The company seems to be referring to court cases where subpoenas have been served on PIA asking for account information, but the only data provided was the general location of the server IPs. Absolutely no user-related data was given up.
Private Internet Access also publishes a Transparency Report detailing any official requests for information, and user data handed over. The full six-month report for January through June 2020 records six subpoenas received, with no logs produced for any of these requests.
Eventually we found a support article, 'Do you log the traffic of your users?', which stated that Private Internet Access "absolutely does not keep any logs, of any kind, period." It explains that logs which might otherwise be maintained are redirected to the null device rather than being written to the hard drive, which means they simply disappear.
The article also includes this paragraph, which explicitly states that the firm doesn't log session data or your online activities:
"We can unequivocally state that our company has not and still does not maintain metadata logs regarding when a subscriber accesses the VPN service, how long a subscriber's use was, and what IP address a subscriber originated from. Moreover, the encryption system does not allow us to view and thus log what IP addresses a subscriber is visiting or has visited."
While this is all very encouraging, we'd like to see Private Internet Access do more. In particular, like NordVPN and other providers, by allowing a third-party audit of its systems.
In December 2019 PIA announced it had 'begun reaching out to external auditors', so perhaps that's on the way. We're keen to see what happens next.
We test the speed of every VPN we review (Image credit: Ookla)
Every VPN promises a high-speed, ultra-reliable network, but the reality can be very different. That's why we look past the enthusiastic marketing, and put every VPN we review through our own intensive tests.
Starting off by connecting to a sample of 20 Private Internet Access locations. We logged the connection time, ran ping tests to look for latency issues and used geolocation to verify that every server appeared to be in its advertised location.
Just trying to connect to a VPN can tell you a lot about the service, and Private Internet Access performed very well. We ran the connection test twice, and didn't have a single issue. Connection times were significantly faster than usual, and although these unsurprisingly increased with distance, this was never more than we expected, and not enough to become an issue at any time.
Our geolocation tests also gave positive results, with all test server locations matching those claimed by Private Internet Access.
Download speeds from our nearest UK servers were reasonable at around 64-70Mbps on our 75Mbps test connection, an average 10% slower than our speeds with the VPN turned off. We've seen fractionally better - averaged 69Mbps - but you probably won't notice any difference in real-world use.
Download performance from distant servers wasn't bad, either. We connected to New Zealand (the location with the highest latency, according to the PIA client), ran more tests and hit download speeds of around 15-25Mbps. That's a significant drop, but we would expect that when connecting to the other side of the world, and even this worst-case scenario is still fast enough for most web tasks.
While others have claimed Private Internet Access couldn't unblock Netflix, it managed to do so for us (Image credit: Netflix)
Connecting to a VPN to use with Netflix and other streaming services can get you access to all kinds of geoblocked websites, hopefully avoiding those annoying 'not available in your region' error messages.
To test the unblocking abilities of Private Internet Access, we connected to multiple US and UK locations, then attempted to access US-only Netflix and YouTube content, as well as BBC iPlayer.
Bypassing YouTube's protection is relatively easy, and as long as you have an IP address which seems to be in the right country, you should be fine. Sure enough, Private Internet Access allowed us to view US-only content on each of its US servers.
BBC iPlayer is more of a challenge. Private Internet Access didn't get us into the service during our last review, and unfortunately it didn't work this time, either.
Accessing Netflix is the real test of website unblocking, though. PIA hasn't always been a top performer here, but this time it didn't just get us in to US Netflix with all five of our test servers, we were also able to unblock Netflix in Canada, Australia and Japan.
Private Internet Access allows you to torrent files without bandwidth limits or restrictions (Image credit: uTorrent)
Private Internet Access supports P2P, and we don't just mean on a couple of specialist servers hidden away somewhere. You can use torrents from any location, with no bandwidth or other limits to restrict your activities.
There's an unusual bonus in Private Internet Access' support for port forwarding. This enables redirecting incoming connections to bypass a NAT firewall, and in some cases, may help improve P2P download speeds.
You shouldn't expect much help with any of this, at least from the website. Searching for 'P2P' or 'torrent' in the knowledgebase mostly pointed us to not-so-relevant articles, such as 'My ping/latency is really high.'
Even the port forwarding document only mentioned in passing that the technology could "potentially optimize torrent performance", without offering any further clues.
Still, the company scores well on the fundamentals – large network, no logs, Bitcoin support – and on balance it makes a fair torrenting choice.
Private Internet Access provides clients for mobile, desktop and even browsers (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
Sign up for Private Internet Access, and the company does its best to streamline the setup procedure. We were immediately redirected to the Download page, where there were direct downloads for Windows, macOS, Linux, and links to the Android and iOS apps and assorted browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox, Opera).
These aren't just file links. We clicked the Windows client, and as well as pointing us to the installer, the website redirected to a page displaying a setup guide.
There are some unusually thoughtful touches. Instead of having a single Windows download link, for instance, you can choose from 32 and 64-bit builds. If, for some reason, a recent update is causing problems, you can download a previous version, and the site lists the changes for every new build.
Advanced features included a download for the Android APK file, allowing you to manually install it on devices where necessary.
Private Internet Access does a particularly good job with OpenVPN configuration files, which are necessary if you're setting up many third-party apps.
These are sensibly named with the country and region or city, such as 'US Chicago.ovpn' (contrast that with NordVPN's 'hr16.nordvpn.com.udp1194.ovpn').
You don't have to live with the default OpenVPN settings, either. There are separate downloads available for different encryption settings, to switch to TCP connections and more. There's also an OpenVPN Configuration Generator on the website where you can build different setups for individual groups of servers, potentially saving you a lot of hassle.
We've seen marginally better setup support – ExpressVPN's activation code system allows setting up clients without manually entering usernames and passwords, plus its tutorials are more numerous and detailed – but Private Internet Access offers more help than most, and the chances are you'll have your devices set up and working with minimal hassle.
This is the interface of Private Internet Access' updated Windows client (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
The Private Internet Access client installs easily, and opens with a simple and very straightforward client window. Tap the big Connect button to connect to your nearest server, tap again to disconnect, and status areas tell you when you're connected, and display your original and new IP addresses.
The client's excellent and feature-packed location picker is just a click away. It lists countries and city-based locations, where available, and ping times indicate which is closest. You can sort the list by location name or ping time, and a search box and Favorites system help you quickly find and access whatever server you need.
The Settings dialog gives you a high level of control over how the VPN works. The Windows client only supports OpenVPN, for instance (there is no IKEv2, L2TP, PPTP or anything else), but you can choose UDP or TCP connection types, as well as selecting a custom remote port (53, 1194, 8080, 9021) and defining your own local port.
Private Internet Access lets you change the type of encryption your VPN uses as well as the connection type (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
Some locations support port forwarding, which makes it easier to set up and accept incoming connections to your system.
The default encryption is only AES-128 (GCM), but the Settings dialog enables changing that to AES-256 (GCM and CBC), and you can also alter the authentication method (SHA1, SHA256) and handshaking (RSA-2048 by default, RSA-4096 and other RSA and ECC options are available). You can also turn encryption off entirely, which isn't great for security, but will boost your speeds in situations where encryption doesn't matter much (watching streaming media, say).
There's an unusual technical plus in a Use Small Packets feature, which sets the client to use a lower MTU setting to improve reliability on some connections. If you can't get or stay connected, that may be effective, and the Private Internet Access client makes it quick and easy to try this out. (Other providers typically hide this idea away in their support website, and force you to work through various Windows dialog boxes to find and change the relevant setting.)
Elsewhere, a kill switch disables internet access if the VPN disconnects, reducing the chance that your real IP will be leaked. You get the option to use Private Internet Access' DNS servers, your own, or any other custom servers you prefer. And the MACE system to block domains used for ads, trackers and malware can be enabled or disabled with a click.
VPN kill switches don't always deliver (some are almost entirely useless), so we were keen to run some in-depth tests. But whether we gently closed a couple of TCP connections or just terminated PIA's entire OpenVPN-based connection manager, the client didn't care. Each time it displayed a desktop notification to warn us of the problem, then quickly reconnected, without ever exposing our real IP.
PIA's Windows VPN client for PC might look a little basic initially, then, but spend a few minutes playing around and you'll find it easy to use, with some interesting advanced features.
Run piactl with no commands to see your options (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
Command line use
PIA's desktop clients now include piactl, a simple command line tool which enables using the VPN from a script.
If that sounds like hard work then you might be right, but there could be advantages. What about setting up a scheduled task to automatically connect at a certain time of day, for instance? Automatically connecting when your system boots, but only after it's performed some local network tasks first? Creating special shortcuts which connect to different locations, then open whatever app or website you need?
Getting this working could be easier than you think. The command 'piactl connect' connects you to the current default connection, for instance, while 'piactl disconnect' closes the connection. You don't need to be a developer to recognize what 'piactl set region us-atlanta' does, and there are commands to get and set more options, and monitor the service state.
This isn't presented with much detail, and even the smartest of experts will be left wondering exactly how some of the more advanced tricks are going to work.
There are other complications, too, including the need to have the graphical client running before some of the commands will work.
Just having the 'connect' and 'disconnect' commands is enough to make the feature useful, though, and we'll be interested to see how piactl develops.
This is the interface of Private Internet Access' Android app (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
The Android app has a clean and stripped-back interface. Most of the screen is white space, with a large On/Off button in the center of the screen, and your chosen region and current IP address at the bottom.
Tapping the current region displays a list of other locations. Each one has a latency figure, giving you an idea of its distance, and a simple favorites system enables moving your most commonly used servers to the top of the list. It's all very easy to use.
The app is surprisingly configurable, with more options and settings than many desktop VPN clients.
You can choose UDP or TCP connections, for instance, with the ability to set local and remote ports, and request port forwarding.
The app can be set up to automatically protect you when accessing unknown or untrusted wireless networks, or turn itself off when you're using cellular networks.
A Per App Settings box enables defining specific apps which won't use the VPN (that's the equivalent of the 'split tunneling' feature you'll sometimes see elsewhere).
As with the Windows client, you're able to replace the default Private Internet Access DNS servers with your preferred alternative.
There's support for using the app with a proxy, reducing packet size to improve reliability, and automatically connecting when the device or app starts. You can even have your handset vibrate to indicate when you're connected, far more convenient than the usual notifications.
As with the Windows client, you're able to choose from four encryption options, ranging from AES-128-GCM to AES-256-CBC, and six handshaking methods (RSA-4096 to ECC-521r1).
There's both a built-in kill switch to block internet access if the VPN connection drops, and a link to explain Android's similar and more capable 'always on' feature.
It's all very well put together, and a well-judged mix of power and ease of use. Whether you're a VPN expert or just looking for an easy life, there's something for you here.
Private Internet Access' iOS app looks quite similar to its Android offering (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
VPN mobile apps can look and behave very differently, but that's not the Private Internet Access way. Its iOS app is almost identical to the Android version, at least in terms of the main operations.
There's the same basic streamlined interface, list of locations, and Connect button. If you've ever used another VPN app, ever, you'll immediately know what to do (even total newbies won't be too far behind).
A Favorites system enables connecting to commonly used servers, while Private Internet Access' ad and malware blocking MACE system keeps you away from dangerous domains.
There are a decent set of options and settings, especially for an iOS app. You can still switch protocol from OpenVPN to IKEv2 or IPsec, choose UDP or TCP connections, set a custom port, use your favorite DNS, take fine-tuned control over encryption and enable a kill switch to protect you online.
The big addition since our last review is support for PIA's InBrowser, a private browser for iOS and Android with tabs and video support. Launch it, work your around the web, and when you close InBrowser, every trace of your activity is erased.
InBrowser works as advertised and we're happy to see it available. But if you're interested, you don't have to sign up to Private Internet Access- the app is available for free on its own site.
The core iOS VPN does get a few additional tweaks, though, including Dark mode support and a 'use small packets' setting for OpenVPN.
Overall, this is a quality app, easy to use and far more capable than most of the competition. A must-see for more demanding Apple users.
Easily connect to your VPN right from your browser (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
Using the Private Internet Access apps isn't difficult, but having to keep switching between your regular application and the VPN client can still be a hassle.
Like ExpressVPN and NordVPN, Private Internet Access now offers add-ons for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, enabling you to connect to the VPN directly from the browser interface. This only protects your browser traffic, but if that's not an issue, the extension makes Private Internet Access much easier to use.
The extension looks and feels almost identical to the other clients, making it very easy to use. A simple opening interface has a big Connect button to connect to the closest server, and there's a full list of locations (and a Favorites system) if needed. Latencies can optionally be displayed alongside each server, and you can enable the VPN from inside your browser with a couple of clicks.
Bonus privacy tools can prevent websites accessing your location, camera or microphone. They're able to stop WebRTC leaks, and variously block or disable Flash, third-party cookies, website referrers, hyperlink auditing, address and credit card auto filling, and more. It's a surprisingly capable setup, although you'll need to treat it with care, as disabling everything could break some websites.
If you do have problems, a Bypass List enables specifying websites which you don't want to use the VPN. If they don't work as they should with the VPN on, add them to the Bypass List and their traffic will be rerouted through your regular connection.
All this functionality means there are lots of settings to explore, but on balance the add-ons work very well. If you're looking for simplicity, you can just choose a location and click Connect, much like any other VPN extension. But more experienced users can head off to the Settings, where they'll find more features and functionality than just about any other VPN browser add-on we've seen.
Private Internet Access has a large knowledgebase with articles on a variety of VPN-related subjects (Image credit: Private Internet Access)
The Private Internet Access Support Center has a web knowledgebase with articles covering troubleshooting, account problems, technical complications and more. These don't always have the detail you'll see with ExpressVPN, but they're not just bland descriptions of app features, either.
For example, a Security Best Practices encryption article gives users some useful technical background on encryption, authentication and handshaking methods, and more.
A Guides section has setup articles and tutorials for all supported platforms. Some of these are relatively basic, but there's still a lot to explore, with, for instance, 14 articles on Android alone.
PIA stopped updating its News page for a while, but that now seems to back, and regularly alerts users to new servers, app updates, service issues and more.
If you can't solve your issues online, you can raise a support ticket. There's no live chat, unfortunately, but ticket response times are better than many, with our test question receiving a friendly and helpful response within 90 minutes. That can't compare with the under two-minute delay we've seen with providers such as ExpressVPN, but they're usually far more expensive, and for the most part, PIA's performance is probably good enough.
Private Internet Access isn't perfect, but it scores in many key areas: this VPN runs on almost anything, is easy to use, crammed with advanced features, and offers decent performance for a very fair price.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider that was founded in the United States in 2010.
Private Internet Access offers easy-to-use, yet powerful VPN protection. Their apps are simple enough for new users, yet powerful enough for experienced users. The service offers top-notch privacy and security for a reasonable price.
I’ve run the provider’s services through a battery of tests, and in this article, I’ll share the results with you.
Some of the questions I’ll be answering include:
- How fast are Private Internet Access’s connection speeds?
- What privacy and security protections does PIA use to protect your connections?
- What’s PIA’s global server coverage look like?
- Does PIA offer reliable access to geo-blocked streaming services, like Netflix?
In addition to answering those questions, I’ll also provide an overall look at the provider’s performance and complete package of services.
Is Private Internet Access for You?
Private Internet Access delivers competitive download speeds, as well as comprehensive online security and privacy protections. However, their content-unblocking ability leaves something to be desired.
PIA’s subscription prices are quite competitive, especially its 2-year subscription option.
A risk-free, 7-day money-back guarantee is available for all subscription plans.
Private Internet Access is an excellent VPN option for users looking for easy-to-use, yet powerful online protection. Streaming video fans should look elsewhere.
|Tested Speed:||78.89 Mbps average download speed (independently tested)|
|Streaming Support:||HD & 4K HDR|
|Unblocks Netflix?:||Yes, but only U.S., and it’s hit-or-miss|
|U.S. Streaming Services Supported:||Netflix, Hulu – access seems to be random|
|U.K. Streaming Services Supported:||None|
|Supports Torrenting:||Yes, on all servers|
|Value for the Money:||4.5/5|
|Money-Back Guarantee:||7 days|
- Very fast connections
- Simple-to-use, yet powerful apps
- Optimal connection protection
- Kill switch protection
- Excellent privacy protections
- Access to streaming services is limited
- Global server coverage could stand some expansion
Private Internet Access (PIA) offers native app support for only the most popular device platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux. (It should be noted that PIA’s Linux app is one of the few GUI-based apps available for the Linux platform.)
Chrome, Opera and Firefox browser extensions are also available, as is support for various makes and models of routers.
PIA’s apps offer kill switch, DNS leak and IP leak protection, and they protect your internet connection with military-grade encryption. In addition, PIA’s “MACE” feature blocks the domains used to serve up ads, trackers and malware. (For more information about these security features, check out my VPN Security Features article.)
When connecting to the Private Internet Access network, users are presented with options to connect to specific locations in countries around the globe. Alongside each server’s name is the current ping reading, allowing users to make educated decisions about which servers might perform best for their needs.
Unfortunately, no streaming- or P2P-optimized server options are available.
The provider’s apps are lightweight and don’t grab too much of your device’s precious resources. They’re simple enough for VPN novices to use, yet have enough options to satisfy experienced users.
Up to 10 devices can simultaneously connect to Private Internet Access servers on one set of login credentials.
As of the date of this review, the Private Internet Access global server network consists of 3,340+ servers in 32 countries. While PIA’s coverage isn’t as impressive as other providers, it should prove sufficient for most users’ needs.
Happily, P2P file sharing is allowed on all of PIA’s servers.
Live support chat is not a 24/7 thing, but is available Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST. However, email support is available 24/7. Support forums and a searchable support library are also available to use to find answers on your own.
I would venture to say that one of the most popular activities among internet users is the streaming of music and video. Popular content includes that provided by Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Spotify, ESPN, Apple Music and numerous others.
Early on, it was relatively simple to find a VPN service that could reliably unblock streaming services and content that were available in other countries.
However, as time passed, streaming services began feeling the pressure from the television and movie studios they contracted with to block VPN users from accessing their shows and films from outside of contracted-for areas.
Netflix and other streaming services began working to detect the IP addresses of VPN providers. When they did, they began blocking those IP addresses, preventing VPN users from accessing their favorite content.
This has led to an ongoing game of virtual whack-a-mole between VPN providers and streaming services. Netflix and others block a VPN’s IP addresses, blocking access.
VPN providers set up new IP addresses, restoring access – at least until the streamer makes its next move.
Private Internet Access is not the VPN provider to turn to for reliable access to streaming services.
Although some of PIA’s U.S. servers did provide access to Netflix during testing, the access was hit-or-miss. No single server provided reliable access to the popular streaming service.
PIA similarly struck out with Netflix in other countries, as well as with other streaming providers, including Hulu, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer and others.
To be fair, Private Internet Access doesn’t claim to offer reliable access to streaming content in housed in other regions. But, my advice is to look elsewhere if you’re a streaming fan.
Security and Privacy
Private Internet Access provides optimal security and privacy protections.
The provider keeps absolutely no logs connected to your online travels when using the service. PIA also accepts Bitcoin as payment for its services, allowing you to keep your payment information completely incognito.
PIA also accepts balances left on many merchant gift cards, which also keeps your payment info under wraps. The number of days you’ll receive in return depends on the balance left on the gift card.
PIA also does a great job of protecting your online travels. Protocols the provider uses include PPTP, OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec.
Their apps offer additional protections, such as kill switch, DNS leak and IP leak protections, as well as their proprietary MACE protection, which blocks the domains for ads, trackers and malware. For more information about these security features, check out my VPN Security Features article.
I’ll be providing a look at the download speeds of PIA’s protected connections shortly. But, before I do, let’s take a look at how we here at Pixel Privacy determine a VPN provider’s speed figures.
We perform all of our VPN speed tests using a Windows machine based in the United States, which is connected to a gigabit Ethernet connection. We perform all tests using the provider’s Windows app, connecting via OpenVPN over UDP.
We make test connections to 3 different servers, which are located in the United Kingdom, the United States and Hong Kong. We perform tests for 3 days, 3 times per day, with at least 4 hours in between each round of tests.
PIA’s average protected connection speeds measured in at 78.89 Mbps during testing, which should easily be able to handle just about any online activity you can throw at it.
Private Internet Access offers an excellent value. Its 1-month subscription is priced more reasonably than that of many VPNs, and its 1-year and 2-year options continue the bargain pricing.
The provider’s 1-month subscription plan will set you back about the same as a quick sandwich and a beer lunch down at the pub, while the 6-month subscription drops the monthly average tariff by less than a dollar per month.
However, the 1-year subscription cuts the monthly fee in half when compared to the month-to-month option.
A risk-free 7-day money-back guarantee is available for all subscription plans.
Private Internet Access covers the basics of a VPN, and it does this well. For those who value the anonymity of the service it is a good choice, but it has less servers than some competitors, which gives us pause for thought.
- More affordable cost
- 5 devices per plan
- Relative lack of servers and locations
- Not great in terms of supported platforms
Private Internet Access is an online VPN service that takes anonymity to the next level. It comes from parent company London Trust Media, which enigmatically has the address for its corporate office in Denver, Colorado. London Trust Media has diverse holdings, including Linux Journal and Block Explorer.
Private Internet Access focuses its service on two things: anonymity and affordability. The firm even puts your IP Address and ISP on its homepage to remind you of how exposed you are when not using a VPN service, which is a little unsettling the first time you see it. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how well this firm hits its goals.
Pricing is simple with only a single VPN tier to choose from. What Private Internet Access lacks in choice, it makes up for with its 7-day money-back guarantee, which is longer than some competitors. That said, we prefer the option of a free trial, which is lacking here. This VPN features unlimited bandwidth, and no data caps.
The Private Internet Access monthly plan costs $6.95 (about £5.30) per month, and even at this lower cost it includes all features. Going for the longer term nets some savings, with the option of a yearly plan for a single payment of $39.95 (about £31), which is an average monthly cost of $3.33 (about £2.54), or less than half price. For those willing to commit for longer, the reward is even more savings as a 2-year plan can be had for a single payment of $69.95 (about £53), which works out to a monthly cost of $2.91 (about £2.22). That’s a whole month of VPN for less than the cost of a single premium cup of coffee, which is pretty amazing in our books.
Private Internet Access does not offer a free tier, nor does it have the option of a lifetime subscription. It’s possible to make bulk purchases of Private Internet Access accounts at a discount, but in terms of pricing, you’ll need to get in touch for a quote, with an email address provided to that end.
True to its aims of a higher level of anonymity, there are multiple options to pay for the VPN service. Of course there are the usual choices, including major credit cards, PayPal and Amazon Pay. Going beyond that are multiple options to use cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitpay, Litecoin, and Zcash. There is also the option to pay for Private Internet Access with a common gift card, presumably quite anonymously as they can be easily purchased for cash (or finally redeemed, as many folks have a drawer full of unused gift cards). For example, a $25 (about £19) Starbucks gift card will yield 100 days of VPN access.
Everyone loves a bargain, and Private Internet Access realizes this. Its budget pricing means some compromises in terms of features, though not as much as you’d expect. Thirty-three countries make for a relatively small network, but that’s going to be enough for most people. The VPN novice who isn’t sure of which server to pick will surely appreciate the ‘Detect Best Server’ feature which removes any guesswork, optimizing speeds and latency behind the scenes.
While you don’t get live chat support, there’s 24/7 North American VPN help available via email. We got a useful response in around two hours.
In the area of platform support, Private Internet Access covers the basics well, including Windows (7, 8, 10), Mac, Android, iOS and Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, Mint, and Arch Linux), for the mainstream desktop and mobile devices. There are also open source extensions for the popular browsers Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
However, that is where the platform support ends, and more niche devices that some of the other VPNs support are left out, such as streaming media boxes, and the less prevalent mobile platforms like Windows Mobile and BlackBerry. Note that there is some support for whole network VPN coverage via router software for Tomato and DD-WRT.
Private Internet Access truly lives up to its tagline of “The most anonymous VPN service,” and its policy of “No logging, period” will keep users more than private while online. Additional protection is provided via DNS Leak Protection, along with Disconnect Protection.
Performance of Private Internet Access is solid, with reliable and fast connections times. We also saw solid US and European speeds, and only some inconsistencies over long-distance connections to mildly spoil the party. Latency was acceptable, and there were no disconnects during testing.
Verdict and Conclusion
Private Internet Access is a VPN that pays close attention to anonymity and affordability, and in both areas it is a compelling offering. However, key areas for improvement include support for an even broader range of platforms, such as the popular Apple TV, and introducing more servers located in a more geographically diverse number of countries.
Client software platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions
Supported protocols: L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, PPTP
No. of servers: 3,245+
No. of countries: 33
Country of registration: United States of America
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitpay, Litecoin, Zcash, gift cards
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max. no, of simultaneously connected devices: 5
Customer support: Email
One of the more popular options in the VPN space is Private Internet Access. It made a name for itself by being notoriously cheap at around $40 per year, despite its desktop interface being kind of terrible at the time. These days you won’t find PIA as cheap as that, but the desktop app is a lot nicer. Plus, you get a ton of country options, good speeds, and for power users the ability to tweak your connection security.
Private Internet Access: Security, software, servers, and speed
PIA’s default view on Mac.
Unlike a lot of other desktop apps, PIA allows users to adjust some of their encryption options beyond just the protocol. By default, PIA uses OpenVPN over UDP, AES-128 data encryption, GCM for data authentication, and RSA-2048 for the handshake.
If you want to change any of that, you can switch UDP to TCP, and data encryption can be changed to AES-256 (CBC or GCM), as well as AES–128 (CBC). If you choose one of the CBC options, you’ll also be able to customize your data authentication and handshake. GCM, however, only lets you adjust the handshake.
Most users should just leave this section as is, but PIA has a helpful guide on its site to explain the advantages and disadvantages of various settings tweaks.
The macOS app for PIA is very similar to the Windows version. It’s a long single column accessible from the top right of the screen in macOS. There’s a large power button to turn your VPN connection on and off, and below that is the current country connection.
Expand the window, and you can see a section with customizable quick connect options (for up to five different countries), the current performance of your connection, total bandwidth used, and some icons to quickly access parts of PIA’s settings.
PIA’s expanded view on Mac.
Overall, it’s a great and simple app that offers enough information for power users, but organized in such a way that novices can ignore it entirely to avoid confusion.
When you dive into the various country connections, you can see the ping times from each country to your location. We love this feature as it allows you to choose the fastest connection possible. For some countries there is only one region option, while others such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States, have multiple options with ping times for each.
PIA doesn’t offer much in the way of extra services. The only thing other than the various connections is PIA Mace, an ad, tracker, and malware blocker. This feature is off by default, but you can turn it on at Settings > Privacy. There’s also a VPN kill switch that shuts down your internet connection if you lose contact with the VPN. That way your online activity won’t be revealed outside of your secure connection. It’s a nice feature, but remember these features are not 100 percent effective at hiding your true location from third parties.
PIA offers more than 3,000 servers in 32 countries. It supports up to 10 simultaneous connections at once, which is fantastic. Most services offer up to five or six maximum. Ten is more than enough to cover most people’s devices at home.
PIA is owned by London Trust Media, which is based in Denver, CO. Its chairman is Andrew Lee and the CEO is Ted Kim. PIA doesn’t keep logs and writes all user data to
/null, a directory that doesn’t exist—meaning the data is discarded. This promise has been tested in court twice, and both times PIA proved to be unable to provide any significant user logs. The most recent case was in 2018, as reported by TorrentFreak.
PIA supports apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
During speed tests, we saw some pretty good results. They weren’t always jaw dropping, but they were decent overall. Speeds were particularly good in the U.S., UK, and Germany.
PIA’s protocol settings.
PIA has three pricing tiers. A one-year subscription will set you back $72 per year, which is a little on the high side, but it does let you connect up to 10 devices at once, which makes the higher price more palatable. If you want to make a two-year commitment it will cost $84 (about $42 per year), and a month-to-month commitment is $10 per month. The month-to-month option is typically high among VPNs to encourage users to choose a one- or two-year commitment. If you’re really intent on a month-to-month optio, I recommend looking at Mullvad, which is $6 per month as of this writing.
PIA is a great service, with a more generous simultaneous device allotment than most services. It also has a good number of country options, a very large server count, and a tested reputation for protecting user privacy. If you need a simple, no-nonsense VPN option PIA is a great choice for both novices and power users.
Editor’s Note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
- Has a history of protecting user privacy
- Power users can customize protocol and encryption
- Price isn't as cheap as it used to be
- Doesn't work with Netflix
Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.
Private Internet Access is a serviceable VPN, but the lack of obfuscated servers means many users may look elsewhere.
You know what? I enjoy rounded little Android-esque characters with my virtual private network () experience. Whether it's in life or within an app, I think a bit of personality goes a long way.
I was also surprised by these mascots considering Private Internet Access (PIA) is the blandest name you could think of when creating a VPN. The name might be vanilla, but the service is pretty effective, with more than 3,330 servers in more than 45 countries.
However, is that enough? In this day where privacy matters so much and every VPN service is competing for supremacy, is private internet access and little else enough to entice users?
A mixed bag of privacy features
If you want to access the internet, you need to have an IP address that’s assigned by your internet service provider (ISP). That’s a lot of trust to place in the hands of a giant company. Your ISP could, theoretically, sell your personal data, and it has access to your traffic activity. It may not be monitored or readily available, but chances are you don’t want to have to trust that a company will do the right thing when it comes to your personal data. That’s why you can use a VPN, obscure your IP address, and hide your activity from your ISP.
Upon launching the VPN, I was greeted by a quick tutorial and joined PIA at the month-to-month rate of $9.95 (you get much better deals if you sign up for one or two years). I was given a randomized username and password and was ready to start using the service. You can always create a new, custom password by accessing your account.
The app itself is pretty basic. There’s a slider to toggle your connection and two sections where you can see your server’s location and current IP address. That’s it for the
Android mobile app [it's the same on the iPhone app], which is sort of disappointing since so many VPN services and apps go out of their way to create a full-featured user experience. However, that could be forgiven if PIA delivered with advanced security options.
There are a lot of security options in PIA, but they're a mixed bag. You can opt to use TCP if you prefer an added sense of security in exchange for speed. There are also multiple options to switch ports for more technical users. Plus you can switch to using small packets for better compatibility with your router.
PIA VPN has a nice feature that lets you block ads and malware while connected. Interestingly, PIA VPN offers a kill switch, but recommends using Android’s “Always On VPN” option because it’s better integrated.
You can select It also automatically enables aggressive IPv6 blocking to prevent any DNS leaks, which might give away your true IP address.
Additionally, you can select your data encryption, authentication, and handshake. These are great features for the tech-savvy user since you’re not given a lot of guidance on why you should use AES-128-CBC, the default encryption, over AES-128-GCM, for example.
CBC and GCM are different encryption protocols with the latter being more secure, according to PIA. While GCM is theoretically a more secure encryption protocol, the added security can slow you down, which makes sense since the 128 refers to bits, so 256 means double the bits. It’s added security, but leads to a slower experience.
However, all of these features feel like a grab bag of security features. There are a lot of options, and plenty of helpful answers on the PIA website on to how to use them, but some important security features are missing for the Android app. There are no obfuscated servers, which masks VPN activity to look more like regular internet activity. This is an important feature for any user in a country with restrictive internet laws. It’s especially important when main competitors such as NordVPN or TunnelBear each offer this feature. If you’re in a country that has restricted internet laws and actively monitors for suspected VPN activity, you’re likely going to quickly pass on PIA.
The Chromebook extension is similar. While PIA VPN acts as a proxy for Chromebooks, that means no obfuscated servers or ways to change encryption protocols. Instead of a full VPN, which uses an encrypted tunnel to mask your activity before connecting to the VPN’s server, a proxy is a basic way to mask your IP address without encryption. However, there were multiple options to limit tracking—such as disabling third-party cookies and blocking malware—or improve privacy, including blocking location access and camera access.
The experience is better on the MacBook Air. I can switch encryption types, add malware protection, activate a kill switch, or request port forwarding.
Despite having somewhat inconsistent experiences between OSes, PIA VPN security features do their job. Testing for domain name service (DNS) leaks revealed no leaks at all. If a website requesting an IP address receives your original IP address and not the VPN’s, you have what’s called a DNS leak. There are many DNS leak tests online to figure out if you’re on a leaky VPN. If the DNS leak test reveals two servers, then you have a leak.
Security features are great, but they can become moot if you can’t trust the VPN company in the first place. PIA VPN says it has a strict “no log” policy — meaning it doesn't keep a log of your internet activity — but you have to believe they are telling the truth. PIA has passed the no-log test in courts, but the company behind the VPN is headquartered in the United States and that still leaves a little cause for concern.
The United States is a founding member of an intelligence-sharing alliance with up to 14 countries. Known as the Five Eyes alliance, it's a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement between the U.S., the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Any VPN headquartered in on one of these countries may be compelled to give up data it has on its users.
In other words, you should take those no-log claims with a grain of salt.
Privacy and speed
U.S. servers for PIA VPN were on par with my standard service. I noticed some drops in my upload speeds, but download speeds were consistently in the 60Mbps range for servers located in New York City, Atlanta, and the Midwest.
New York speed
I noticed a 10 Mbps drop in my upload speed when I was connected to the Midwest VPN.
Download speeds were better in the UK than France with the latter seeing a close to 20 Mbps drop in speed. Upload speeds were lackluster with both hovering in the teens. It may never be something you notice until you need to send a large file, but it’s something to consider.
I had no speed issues using the Android app. There were negligible 5Mbps drops in download speed, and I never noticed any hiccups or slow-loading images while browsing the web on the default server.
PIA VPN faces another setback with users because it does not bypass Netflix’s strict security measures. Most VPNs are blocked by Netflix ever since the streaming service began actively cracking down on VPN and proxy usage, but this feature would have made PIA VPN a contender even with some of the concerns mentioned previously.
No Netflix, PIA VPN users 🙁
Additionally, PIA VPN does not penetrate China’s “Great Firewall” (although there's a cumbersome workaround). It does support P2P traffic, for those who like to torrent.
Private internet access and little else
PIA offers a decent VPN, but that’s about it. There are some good privacy features, but it’s also lacking in obfuscated server support. Speeds are hit-or-miss, but mostly not too bad for a VPN. Speed drops should be minimal for most users who won’t go beyond the default connection. No Netflix is a bummer.
Ultimately, it’s hard to recommend PIA when there are so many VPN options on the market. Sometimes you need more than just internet access that's private.
Pros and Cons of Private Internet Access
First, I want to give you a brief overview of what I thought about Private Internet Access, both the VPN itself and the company behind it.
What We Like
- No traffic logs: Private Internet Access does not log any consumer data whatsoever.
- Great app reviews: iPhone and Android users alike rated the Private Internet Access app highly.
- Speed on Windows computer: Private Internet Access worked particularly fast on my Windows Vivobook.
What We Don’t Like
- Headquartered in the U.S: PIA’s Denver digs means its part of multiple international surveillance alliances, so they may be asked to hand over data (although they won’t have any as they don’t log anything).
- Mixed customer support reviews: some people had quick responses, while others waited for days to get PIA help.
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
About Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access, a subsidiary of London Trust Media, is based in Denver, Colorado. Not that I don’t love Denver, but I’m a bit surprised about their location. I prefer my VPN companies to be located in places where there’s no surveillance alliance, such as Panama. Being in the U.S, Private Internet Access is subject to the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances. These are international alliances between countries that make accessing citizens’ data legal. The fact that Private Internet Access is based in the U.S is definitely a drawback, as they could be legally forced to give up information. We’ll talk more about what data Private Internet Access actually stores in a bit.
Here’s what else you should know about Private Internet Access— they have over 3,194 servers in 33 countries. The amount of servers, as well as their locations, matters a ton. You want to be as close to a server as possible for a fast Internet connection. For more details on Private Internet Access’s servers’ locations, check out their website.
Features of Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access Features
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the same can be said for VPNs. Sure, all VPNs create a private network where your data and IP address are encrypted, but they’re not all created equal. Let’s find out if Private Internet Access is up to snuff.
Will Private Internet Access Log My Data?
Private Internet Access emphasizes the fact that they do not log data of any kind. That means they’ll have no idea when you’re using the VPN, for how long, what your IP address is, or what sites have you been visiting.
“We’ve never been asked for keys, nor [have we] handed over user data…We don’t have any logs whatsoever. We don’t log metadata [or] session data either. We will comply with anything, but we can’t comply because we do not provide any logs. We don’t log, period,”
Private Internet Access founder Andrew Lee told ARS Technica in 2013. Granted this quote is a little dated, but still quite clear.
Does Private Internet Access Have A Kill Switch?
A kill switch, otherwise known as a “network lock feature” or “disconnect protection” means that any software or website will automatically shut down if your connection to the VPN is lost. Thus, you are still protected from the public network. I’m pleased to say that Private Internet Access does provide a kill switch with its software.
What Kind of Tunneling does Private Internet Access Offer?
A small drawback of the Private Internet Access VPN is that it doesn’t offer split tunneling, meaning you won’t be able to be on a private and public network simultaneously. Instead, all of your data will go through the same encrypted VPN tunnel, which uses more bandwidth than split tunneling.
Can I Use Netflix with Private Internet Access?
I like to think of VPNs and Netflix has a tug of war. Sometimes the VPN wins, sometimes Netflix wins, but each side is constantly trying to outdo each other. Although Private Internet Access doesn’t restrict access to Netflix itself, Netflix does attempt to block VPNs whenever possible. Therefore, access is not guaranteed. You should, however, be able to torrent files, a nice alternative to Netflix.
Private Internet Access Encryption
In short, encryption changes your text into inscrutable code. It’s what prevents people from accessing your data, the entire point of VPNs. Private Internet Access lets you choose your encryption methods.
Private Internet Access Suggest Encryption
Now let’s talk about what each of these terms means.
For the encryption itself, you’ll choose between the Advanced Encryption Standard of 128 or 256 bits. 256 is the current industry standard, while 128 is a bit outdated.
VPN Hashing Algorithm
Authentication means making sure that the right person is accessing the network.
SHA stands for a Secure Hash Algorithm. What’s a hash exactly? It’s basically a key used to encrypt and decrypt messages. The key is made from an algorithm by both the sender and the recipient, using their own secret values, or data. Hashes are irreversible, meaning you can’t work backwards to find the secret values, and each and every hash is unique. Not surprisingly, SHA-1 is the first version of the algorithm, and like the first pancake in the batch, it’s inferior to later versions. In fact, in 2016, Google found that some hashes from SHA-1 aren’t unique, a huge security issue.
SHA-256, on the other hand, means that it has two to the two hundred and fifty sixth-power possible hashes. That’s more than a trillion and even more than a septillion. The more possible number of hashes there are, the smaller chance the hacker has at creating the same hash. So yea, SHA-256 is going to be way more secure than SHA-1.
RSA SecurID, named after its founders, is responsible for making sure you are who you say you are and controlling who has access to your data. RSA can use different types of multi-factor authentication, from a push notification to biometrics, RSA wants to make sure the right person is accessing the software.
There is some debate about the key length among software engineers. In a nutshell, the higher the key, the better the security is. RSA-2048 has 16% fewer bits of security than RSA-4096, but 4096 will use more power, particularly on the central processing unit (the brain of the computer). Therefore, the higher the key, the more battery life your VPN will take up. 2048 will work for about 15 more years before it will be considered obsolete, according to Dr. Alessio Di Mauro, a Ph.D. in computer science and principal engineer at cybersecurity company Yubico.
Aside from the RSAs, you can also choose ECC-256k1, which stands for Elliptic Curve Cryptography. In short, it’s a newer method of encrypting data that performs better than both RSA-2048 and RSA-4096. ECC also uses an asymmetric encryption algorithm and usually outperforms RSAs in terms of speed and memory. Remember, 256-bit is our industry standard for encryption, so if you’re looking for the best, ECC-256k1 is where it’s at.
Private Internet Access Protocols
Protocols determine how data is transmitted across a network. Think of them as different routes that you can take to get to a destination. Some routes will be faster than others, some will be safer than others, so Private Internet Access uses a combination of different protocols to achieve both speed and security.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, or PPTP, has been used very commonly since the nineties. Rather than doing the encryption itself, the PPTP actually creates the tunnels that will encapsulate the data packets. It works with a secondary protocol that will perform the actual encryption. On its own, PPTP is not super secure.
Think of IPSec and L2TP as Batman and Robin. While L2TP, otherwise known as Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, generates the tunnel, IPSec handles encryption, makes sure the tunnel is secure, and checks that the data has arrived intact. IPSec, short for IP security, either encrypts only the data packet message or the entire data packet. Together, they create a VPN client that’s highly secure.
SOCKS5 is a proxy that will assign you a new IP address before it takes you to your location. While SOCKS requires last bandwidth than a typical VPN, its data is not encrypted and thus less secure. That’s why Private Internet Access uses SOCKS in conjunction with encryption methods, detailed above.
OpenVPN is an extremely commonly used VPN software because it’s the most secure. It’s great at bypassing firewalls, an essential quality of a VPN, but it won’t slow down your Internet too much. The reason I love OpenVPN so much is because it’s crowdsourced, not made by a company. The VPN community is constantly tinkering with OpenVPN to make sure that surveillance agencies aren’t tampering with it. Sounds ideal to me.
Testing Private Internet Access
Now that I’ve given you a pretty detailed overview of Private Internet Access’ technical specifications, I want to put this VPN through my tests. I have very high standards for speed and security, so hopefully, I’m not disappointed.
The first thing I want to test is speed. All VPNs will slow down your Internet a little, but I want to keep it to a minimum. I’ve got places to go and people to see, and waiting for the spinning wheel to stop spinning is not on my to-do list.
I test all of my VPNs from my apartment in Brooklyn, New York on my Optimum network. To get a larger idea of how the VPN works, I use it on both my Macbook Air and my Windows Vivobook. Let’s take a closer look.
Private Internet Access Download Speed Test
Clearly, Private Internet Access had a much larger effect on the Mac’s download speed, slowing it down by a pretty dismal 65%. On Windows, however, my download speed was only slowed by about 15%, which is pretty good.
Private Internet Access Upload Speed Test
Now let’s talk upload speed. Again, the Windows performed better than the Mac, with only about a 5% decrease compared to the Mac’s 30%. Clearly, Private Internet Access is a better VPN for Windows users over Mac users— but let’s confirm that with latency.
Private Internet Access Ping Test
Ping, another word for latency, is measured in milliseconds, so we’re getting into extreme detail here. Amazingly, Private Internet Access did not create any latency on my Macbook Air, and it only increased latency by about a third on the Windows computer. From these tests, I can conclude that Private Internet Access is a decent VPN for Mac but great for Windows in terms of download and upload speed.
DNS Leak Test
A domain name server is basically the URL that you type in when you want to go to a website. Each domain name server, or DNS, stands for an IP address. Think of it as a description, like “the big yellow house on the corner,” as opposed to “123 Main Street”. I want to make sure that my DNS’s are not being leaked outside of the encrypted tunnel provided by Private Internet Access. Fortunately, when I tested it, there were no leaks detected. Awesome!
WebRTC Leak Test
WebRTC allows two web browsers to communicate with each other directly rather than going through a server. It creates faster speeds, particularly when you’re livestreaming video, sharing files, or video chatting. However, it does require knowing each other’s private IP addresses, so it’s something to look out for, especially if you use Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Microsoft Edge. Just like the DNS leak test, I want to make sure that my private IP addresses are staying in the encrypted tunnel. The verdict? No leaks! All in all, Private Internet Access passed my tests with flying colors, save for the Mac download speed.
Private Internet Access Subscriptions
Finally, I’m getting to what you want to hear about all along- subscriptions and pricing.
With any of Private Internet Access subscription plans, you’ll be able to switch in between an unlimited amount of servers on an unlimited amount of devices. However, you’ll only be able to use ten devices simultaneously, which seems like more than enough to me. As you can see, the plans range from a little more than three dollars a month to about ten dollars a month, extremely affordable. The longer the term length, the lower your monthly cost will be. Keep in mind that Private Internet Access does offer a seven-day money-back guarantee, so if you absolutely hate the VPN but you signed up for two years, you can get out of it.
Private Internet Access will work on a Windows, Mac, Ubuntu, iPad, iPhone/iTouch, and Android.
Supported browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera, a web browser from Windows.
Private Internet Access Customer Support
There are few things more frustrating than having to call customer support for a technical issue. It takes all the calming yogic breaths I have in me not to have a full-on temper tantrum. So when looking at VPNs, I want to make sure the customer support is there before I download anything on my computer.
You can get support from PIA through their online knowledge base, or to get in contact with someone, you can fill out a form. I’m a bit disappointed that they don’t offer a live chat or phone feature— it seems like getting support could take a while. But let’s see what PIA customers had to say about it.
Customer Support Ratings
The Better Business Bureau gave Private Internet Access, a subsidiary of London Trust Media, an overall rating of A-. It lost points due to the length of time the business has been operating, which is one of the BBB’s weird idiosyncrasies that I wouldn’t look too far into. Unfortunately, no customers had left any reviews on the BBB, probably because Private Internet Access is not the name of the page.
To find real Private Internet Access customer reviews, I turned to Amazon. The Private Internet Access VPN has a rating of 3.6 on Amazon, which is decent but not fantastic. Out of the 11 reviews that mentioned customer support, seven were positive, a little over 60%. While I’m glad that the majority of the reviews were positive, it’s only by a small margin. Some people said response times were fast, while some never received responses or received them much later. Overall, Private Internet Access’s customer support appears inconsistent.
The Private Internet Access App
Private Internet Access App
The Private Internet Access app is available on iOs and Android. The app has great ratings, a 4.6 from iPhone users and a four from Android users.
“Trouble-free app for an excellent service…No ads popping up as notifications which other (even paid) apps have decided is acceptable behavior (and we’ve apparently decided to accept),”
wrote a Google user in a five-star review.
Private Internet Access Vs. Windscribe
Private Internet Access Vs. Windscribe Features
I’m comparing Private Internet Access to Windscribe, a similar VPN. Unlike Private Internet Access, which has one of the strictest no data logging policies around, Windscribe will keep your username, password, email, and payment. These are all pretty standard as they allow you to log into the VPN, but Windscribe also keeps the total amount of bytes you’ve transferred in the last month, plus a timestamp of your last activity. This is a little more data to save than necessary, but fortunately, they won’t store your source IP address or any of the sites you visited.
One advantage Windscribe has over Private Internet Access is split tunneling, allowing you to access a public and private server at once and reduce bandwidth. As far as Internet speed goes, Private Internet Access has Windscribe beat. Neither VPN had any DNS or WebRTC leaks, which is a good sign.
Due to its superior data logging policy and speed, I’d pick Private Internet Access over Windscribe, unless you’re dying to have split tunneling.
Recap of Private Internet Access
Overall, Private Internet Access is a really solid choice of a VPN.
I’d recommend Private Internet Access if you’d like…
- Speed on Windows: Private Internet Access worked really well on my Windows computer in particular.
- Highly-rated app: Private Internet Access has great ratings both from iPhone and Android users.
However, avoid Private Internet Access if you don’t like…
- So-so speed on Mac: You can definitely find VPNs that work faster on Macs than Private Internet Access.
- Headquarters in U.S: Although the company won’t log your data, they could be legally forced to hand it over to the other countries part of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes.
- Weak customer support: With no phone or live chat feature, you could wait a while to hear back from customer support.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most popular VPNs on the market. True to its name, this provider is best known for its strict no-logs policy and commitment to user privacy.
Is PIA truly as trustworthy as they claim when it comes to protecting user privacy and anonymity? How does it perform in other categories like streaming, torrenting, and safety?
We tested PIA ourselves to find out, and the results are in. Some of the highlights of PIA’s VPN service include its user-friendly interface, robust security, anonymous torrenting, and support for 10 simultaneous devices.
Downsides include variable speeds and inconsistent ability to access popular streaming sites.
PIA can unblock Netflix US and UK, Hulu, Disney+, and more. Unfortunately, it can’t access Netflix libraries from any other country, or BBC iPlayer. For that, we’ve had more consistent results with NordVPN.
Streaming – Does PIA Work with Netflix?
With popular streaming sites like Netflix constantly cracking down on VPN use, there’s no guarantee that most VPNs will be able to access geoblocked streaming content.
We had mixed results with PIA. The good news is that all three of the US servers that we tested were able to access US Netflix content without being blocked by the dreaded proxy error.
We were also able to access UK Netflix on both servers that we tested, as well as Netflix content in Canada and Australia.
The downside is that we were unable to access Netflix in other server locations that we tested, including Germany, Mexico, and Japan.
If you’re looking to unblock Netflix and other streaming sites from across the globe, NordVPN is a reliable choice. It’s fast, secure, and unlimited.
PIA has a large network of 3,200+ servers in 29 countries. Larger server networks are generally good news for a VPN’s speed, because more servers mean less crowding.
To understand the results of VPN speed tests, it’s important to know what your starting connection speed is before connecting to a VPN server.
The starting speed can then be compared to the speeds you get while connected to the VPN’s servers.
In this case, we started out with a base connection speed of 70 Mbps.
We started out our speed test by using PIA’s automatic connection feature, which directed us to a nearby server in the US. Our average speed was 34 Mbps.
However, when we ran the speed test again just a few minutes later on the same server, our speed was less than 15 Mbps.
The rest of our speed tests showed similar inconsistencies. We got our highest speed—58 Mbps—through one of the UK servers:
We also were pleased with our speed of 51 Mbps through PIA’s Canadian server:
However, most other servers that we tested resulted in speeds less than 20 Mbps.
Our speed test in Germany gave us only 16 Mbps:
Across the world from our physical location, the servers in Hong Kong and Australia gave us extremely slow speeds of less than 10 Mbps:
When it comes to the most common online activities like browsing and streaming, inconsistent speeds can get frustrating quickly.
Although PIA was able to give us excellent speeds in some locations, the speeds weren’t very stable, and many locations significantly slowed us down.
PIA’s performance may vary depending on where you are physically located and which server locations you plan on regularly using.
Is PIA Good for Torrenting?
PIA states clearly on their website that they offer full P2P support. Torrenting is allowed on all servers in the network.
The provider’s strict no-logs policy is great for anonymous torrenting. The VPN also offers an automatic kill switch, which will keep your P2P activity secure even if the VPN connection unexpectedly drops, as well as port forwarding.
Security – Is PIA Safe?
PIA claims to be a great VPN for security and anonymity. The security features offered by PIA reflect the VPN’s focus on safety.
If you aren’t interested in exploring PIA’s advanced features, the VPN will still keep your connection safe with IP masking, data encryption, IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection, and a firewall.
When we tried connecting to PIA before touching any of the settings, the VPN was able to successfully protect us with no DNS or IP leaks detected.
We tested this on several websites. Here is our result from the dnsleak website while connected to one of PIA’s UK servers:
As you can see, our real IP address and physical location in the US was not detected.
Experienced users will appreciate PIA’s advanced security features, which are easily enabled in the app’s settings. These features include an automatic kill switch, malware and tracking protection, and port forwarding.
PIA gives you a lot of freedom to customize your encryption algorithm and protocols. The default setting protects your connection with AES 128-bit encryption.
This algorithm is extremely secure, but not at the same level as the now common AES 256-bit encryption.
Luckily, it’s simple to change this setting if you prefer. You can manually select your encryption algorithm and handshake encryption in the settings interface.
If you don’t know what any of this means, don’t worry. PIA has detailed explanations on their website of each encryption type and how to decide which is best for you.
PIA’s dedicated apps use an OpenVPN protocol, with the option to choose between UDP and TCP connections. The exception is the iOS app, which uses IPsec.
Manual configuration is also supported with OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP, and SOCKS5 Proxy.
Does PIA Keep Logs?
There is one thing that categorically impressed us: PIA really keeps to its no-log policy.
PIA is based in the US and therefore is required to comply with US laws and demands. This means that if the government requests information from PIA, then PIA is required by law to hand over any relevant data that they have collected.
Because of its US headquarters, PIA also falls under the jurisdiction of the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance, which should make privacy lovers nervous.
But with PIA, we’re not so worried.
PIA has also had several opportunities to prove that they stick to this policy. Both in 2015 and in 2017, the government demanded log data from PIA regarding an ongoing investigation. On both separate occasions, PIA did not have anything to hand over.
While it’s hard to test whether a VPN retains data logs of its users or not, these events are a great sign that PIA truly does not keep any logs.
Does PIA Have an Adblocker?
PIA’s VPN service includes adblocking as part of their MACE feature, which can be easily turned on in the settings.
The MACE feature blocks adware, tracking, and malware whenever the VPN is enabled. It is available on Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux, but currently not iOS.
We tested PIA’s adblocker on several websites that are normally filled with advertisements. The MACE feature was able to successfully block all of the ads that we encountered.
Does PIA Work in China?
Bypassing the Great Firewall of China is so challenging that many VPNs won’t function within the country.
Unfortunately, PIA is not currently able to offer reliable connections to customers in China.
Some users in China have success with PIA using the less secure but harder to detect L2TP protocol. However, even this is not guaranteed.
While you might get lucky, we don’t recommend choosing PIA specifically for use in China.
Price and value for money
One of the reasons that PIA is such a popular VPN service is because of its reasonable prices. Many premium VPNs with comparable features charge more for their service.
If you are mainly interested in a VPN for security and anonymity while browsing or torrenting, PIA offers good value for the price. When you consider the big discounts offered on longer subscription plans, the value is even better.
However, there are other VPNs in the same price range that have strengths that PIA lacks, such as stronger streaming support and more reliable speeds. It all comes down to what you are looking for.
Unfortunately, PIA does not offer a free tier or a free trial, so the best way to try out the service is to purchase an affordable monthly subscription.
If you decide PIA isn’t for you, you can take advantage of PIA’s 7-day money-back guarantee. This is a shorter refund window than many of PIA’s competitors, but still should be plenty of time to make a decision.
Is PIA Compatible with my Device?
PIA offers dedicated apps for all major platforms, including:
Features are similar across apps. The exception is the iOS app, which lacks the MACE adblocking feature and uses the IPsec protocol rather than OpenVPN.
PIA also offers secure browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
If you prefer manual installation, PIA offers in-depth installation guides on their website. PIA can also be installed on compatible routers, including DD-WRT, Tomato, and pfSense.
One big advantage to PIA’s service is that you can connect up to 10 simultaneous devices with a single account. This is more than most of PIA’s competitors.
PIA Customer Service
One area where PIA is catching up with some of its top competitors is in customer service. PIA does now offer the 24/7 live chat support that we have come to expect from top VPNs on the market.
PIA’s biggest positive feature when it comes to support is its website. The support section of the site has some great resources, including easy-to-follow installation guides, troubleshooting walkthroughs, FAQs, and a searchable knowledgebase.
If you’re willing to spend the time searching these resources, you can probably find the solution to most problems without needing to contact the support team in person.
The user-friendly interface of PIA’s dedicated apps is one of the highlights of the service.
When you open the PIA app for the first time, getting started is as simple as entering the login credentials that were emailed to you when you bought your subscription.
It’s easy to get started once you’ve entered your credentials. You can connect to your most recent server location with a single click by pressing the big power button in the center of the screen.
The first time you connect, the app will be set to automatically connect you to the fastest server in your area.
To manually select your server location, click on your current location. A list of all available server locations will pop up. Just select the one you want, then click the power button.
The server selection interface is pretty user-friendly. It lists the current ping times for each server location in ms, with shorter ping times being better.
As you can see in the image above, the fastest servers have their ping times displayed in green, while slower servers are displayed in yellow. This makes it easy to choose the best server.
You also have the option to save servers to a list of your favorites.
Back on the app’s main page, the settings can be accessed by clicking the three dots in the upper right corner and selecting Settings.
The settings interface is well-organized and gives you a lot of freedom to customize your features without any hassle.
Overall, PIA is one of the most user-friendly and intuitive apps that we’ve reviewed.
Although it has plenty to offer experienced users, VPN beginners should have no problem using the VPN.
Despite not having the best speeds or customer support, PIA still offers a solid VPN service at an affordable price.
If you’re looking for a trustworthy provider that values user privacy and offers strong security, adblocking, and anonymous torrenting, PIA may be a good option for you. The service is also wrapped up in an extremely user-friendly package.
However, unreliable speeds and inconsistent geo-spoofing abilities mean that PIA may not be the best choice for HD streaming or high-bandwidth gaming.
Although it can unblock Netflix US and UK, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, it can’t unblock other Netflix libraries or BBC iPlayer. For reliable, fast access to hundreds of international streaming services, we recommend NordVPN instead.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is probably the most popular VPN on the market today.
It was started by London Trust Media, INC. back in August 2010.
Despite being one of the cheapest VPNs, and having thousands of users, is it good enough for serious use?
In this review, we tested PIA server network performance, usability of their VPN app as well as the technology behind their VPN service (OpenVPN + 128-bit encryption).
Overall, here’s how it did.
|OVERALL RANK:||#10 out of 78 VPNs|
|LOG FILES:||No Logging Policy|
|LOCATIONS:||33 countries, 3335 servers|
|SUPPORT:||Limited “Live Chat”|
|ENCRYPTION/PROTOCOL:||128-bit AES (default), OpenVPN and more|
|COST:||$3.49/mo and up|
PIA Pros +
1. Fast Download Speed (81 Mbps out of 100)
One of the most important factors of a VPN is their download speed. If you’re signing up with a slow (read: bad VPN), you’ll end up with ridiculously slow speed.
We’ve faced that several times, especially when I tested speed in StrongVPN and Mullvad (both were below 20 Mbps out of 100).
However, things with Private Internet Access look quite good actually. As always, to make our PIA review accurate, I went to speedtest.net and put the following locations to the test: US, EU, Asia, and the UK.
P.S. The location I used to track the speed was in the middle of Europe: Estonia.
US Server (New York)
- Ping: 118ms
- Download: 77.56 Mbps
- Upload: 36.75 Mbps
EU Server (Amsterdam)
- Ping: 41ms
- Download: 81.46 Mbps
- Upload: 40.30 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
- Ping: 283ms
- Download: 69.98 Mbps
- Upload: 13.04 Mbps
UK Server (London)
- Ping: 48ms
- Download: 75.67 Mbps
- Upload: 23.00 Mbps
In conclusion – PIA is pretty fast VPN. Not as fast as NordVPN or ExpressVPN, but surely an “OK” alternative as it’s cheaper.
Keep in mind, speed is an important factor and is vastly connected with the VPN software you’re using. Of course, there are some ways to speed up a VPN connection, but the main strength comes from the actual VPN servers.
2. PIA Claims No Logging
‘Logging’ is a practice used to monitor and record data points from your VPN activity.
For example, your internet service provider (ISP) will log which websites you access along with your personal information used to connect (like email or ISP). And they can actually sell that data.
Some VPN providers will log certain details, like when you log in or sign off, in order to monitor their usage to improve service.
PIA has a no logging policy that will not track or monitor traffic logs, or communication logs.
However, it does track some information, such as:
- Your email address
- Payment data
- Clients who opt to use the optional control panel will receive a temporary cookie
3. No Leaks Detected
Private Internet Access is located within the United States, a founding member of the Five Eyes Surveillance Alliance.
Not ideal right off the bat.
If they were to get their grubby hands on your data, it would end up in government databases all around the world.
Thankfully though, this is a system without leaks, which greatly hinders the government’s ability to spy on your browsing activity.
As you can see in the results below, PIA passed all of our tests, both to detect the presence of leaks and to ensure that their installation software was 100% clean.
4. Solid Encryption & Great Features
In addition to important features, such as:
- Anonymous IP
- Ability to torrent
- Kill-Switch (but people have complained about it)
- 10 simultaneous connection
- Total servers: 3300+
- Total countries: 32 (last verified on 28th of May, 2019)
PIA also has several different levels of encryption:
The default settings use 128-bit encryption on your data, which is good, but not the best. However, you can step up your data encryption to 256-bit, which is the industry standard, and will give you a very secure connection (it will slow everything down a bit, though).
You can also choose the level of encryption on both your data authentication and your handshake. Both of these help your computer and the server verify the authenticity of the connection and the data being transmitted. The default settings are for SHA1 and RSA-2048, a 2,048-bit encryption key. That’s very difficult to break.
You can go all the way up to RSA-4096, though, and double the size of the data authentication key with SHA256.
Again, I recommend using the maximum settings so you get the best security possible. But if you really need extra speed, you could consider using the default recommendation. And while the Risky Business setting might seem like a good idea if you need extra speed for torrenting or streaming, we’d really recommend against it.
There’s probably not anyone trying to break your VPN encryption… but why risk it?
5. Specialized in Torrenting
If you’re looking for a VPN that won’t restrict your torrenting, PIA is a solid choice. They don’t restrict or monitor any connections, and that includes peer-to-peer file sharing.
You can use any torrenting client you like to download whatever you want, secure in the knowledge that your account won’t be blocked or your connection throttled.
While Private Internet Access’s website doesn’t specifically say that the company supports torrenting, they do say that P2P is supported. So that’s something. But the VPN has developed a reputation for being torrent-friendly, so people recognize them as being a solid choice for file sharing.
6. One of The Oldest and Well-Known VPN Providers
In the VPN world, it means a lot to have a reputation. And Private Internet Access has one of the best reputations in the business. They’ve been around since 2010, and they’ve provided reliable service ever since. In late 2017, they won the award for Most Stable VPN, which means a lot.
Was it sponsored or not? Hard to tell…
They’ve also received multiple editor’s choice award, but we can never know if they were compensated by PIA or not.
The VPN shows up in a lot of “best of” lists, and there haven’t been any serious questions about their commitment to privacy (though they’re based in the US, which can be problematic; keep reading and we’ll discuss that momentarily).
Being in business for almost 20 years is definitely a sign of prestige in the VPN world. PIA’s reputation and longevity make it a very safe choice.
The company also supports many organizations that are making the internet a better place, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, Blender, Inkscape, Gnome, and the Software Freedom Conservancy.
7. Decent Device Compatibility
PIA supports most popular platforms.
That includes Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and Firefox. They also have browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
They also support routers, technically speaking. But that will require some manual setup through OpenVPN.
Not a huge fan of the extra labor. However, it does mean they’re compatible with DD-WRT, Lede, Merlin, PFSense, Tomato, and ASUSWRT routers.
Plus, you can then connect both smart TVs and game consoles to those routers. So there’s your light at the end of the tunnel.
8. One Out of Five Servers Worked for Netflix
PIA’s support forums confirm that they’ve been working diligently for years to find ways around Netflix’s detection.
How have they fared?
We tested four of their servers and saw the same dreaded black screen:
Those four losers included:
- United States: New York
- United Kingdom
However, we did get a successful one in Sunny California.
Believe it or not, one out of four is pretty good these days. Especially when the majority of VPNs don’t even try to work with streaming services anymore.
But if you want a more consistent Netflix performer, take a look at this comparison.
PIA Cons –
1. Limited Live Chat Support
Although PIA offers “24/7 North American” support.
They only offer a live chat option for paying customers, which is kinda bad if you want to inquire about their services.
I think that means their support personnel is located in North America. Seeing as the whole “24/7” thing means they should always be available (no matter where you’re located).
However, when I contacted them through a middle of the night, I got a response at next morning. Not so 24/7 anymore, huh?
On a positive side, they also provide a separate Twitter account dedicated to customer service. I took a look at that network to see how they interact with customers. The good news is that they will still try to provide long, detailed answers (despite Twitter’s condensed medium).
Furthermore, they have a FAQ page which might help some of you:
2. Located in The US
Private Internet Access is based in the United States, and that’s problematic for many people. The US has some of strictest, most privacy-invading surveillance laws in the developed world, and that applies to VPN providers. The government has been known to pressure VPNs to give up user data with secret warrants, and that worries privacy advocates.
Of course, the fact that PIA doesn’t keep logs means that they have very little to share with the authorities if they come knocking. But the fact is that they may not have a choice; if they have any data about you at all (such as whether you’re a customer or how long you’ve been one), they may be forced to hand it over.
Should that worry you? Maybe, and maybe not. There are rumors that the NSA has been able to break the encryption on some VPNs, which means the government could be snooping on your connection. If you’re using the maximum security recommendations, that’s less likely.
Because of the combination of surveillance laws and intelligence-sharing agreements in the US, I tend to avoid VPNs based there. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely necessary for everyone.
PIA Pricing, Plans & Facts
PIA has a single plan with tiered pricing based on the length you’d like to commit and prepay. That keeps things nice and simple. And you can also get a great deal if you’re ready to shell out a single year in advance.
- $5.99/mo ($71.88 per year)
- 2 years
- $3.49/mo ($83.87 per 2 years)
They offer a 7-day money back guarantee. So you can give the service a spin over the course of a few days. If you’re unhappy at all during those seven days, you can simply get your money back.
Interestingly, PIA accepts all kinds of different methods of payment from credit cards to PayPal & they’ll also accept Bitcoin (which could also help you add another layer of privacy to the transaction).
But – and I’m not making this up – they also accept gift cards for popular retailers like Starbucks, Costco, Best Buy, Target, and more. So you know those random gifts your parents just bought you during the holidays? Now you just found a use for it.
Even better way to mask behind your identity?
- No logging: No activity logs, only payment and email information.
- Ease of the VPN software: Simple and smooth, installation file was over 60mb though.
- Upsells: No upsells.
- Instant access after payment: Yes.
- DNS leaks: Protection is built in (though you should always test it yourself).
- Jurisdiction: United States
- Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/L2TP, PPTP, Socks5 proxy.
- Kill-switch: Mixed reviews. Users can enable or disable it, and some have found that it doesn’t work as consistently as they like (I recommend testing it yourself).
Do I Recommend Private Internet Access?
Yes and No.
PIA offers excellent coverage in North America and Europe, with tons of servers centrally located. That coverage isn’t as great in other parts of the world, however, with only a few servers spread around the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and a single, lonely one in Brazil for South American users.
PIA has all major protocols available, along with state-of-the-art encryption methods. Their annual pricing is among the lowest in the industry. And they’ve got a seven-day money back guarantee if you’d like to try them out.
No general live chat support and company located in the US. A lot less privacy in a Five Eyes country.