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Private Internet Access Review (In-Depth)

Marc DahanPrivate Internet Access Review (In-Depth)

VPNs have turned into a mainstream commodity for many people around the world. 

But not all VPN providers are the same. And it’s not always obvious, especially to new users, which VPN provider they should go with. 

In this post, we review Private Internet Access, in-depth.

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Here's what matters most.

PIA robot

Our score: 

8.5/10

Private Internet Access has been around for a long time and have enjoyed sustained popularity among VPN users. They’re probably doing something right…

They have robust policies in place for security and privacy. And, unlike many, if not most, VPN providers, they have a proven track record when it comes to standing by its policies and standing up for its users.

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Private Internet Access Overview

[vpn vpn_1="PIA"]

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a staple in the VPN space. They are one of the most well-known VPN providers.

 They’re very affordable. They take a strong (and proven) stance on user privacy. They support many VPN protocols and robust, industry-standard encryption. 

They have native apps for every major OS and they allow up to a generous 10 simultaneous connections to their network.

About Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access is a U.S.-based VPN provider, which was founded in 2010. 

They’ve grown to become one of the most well-known VPN providers in the world. They offer over 3292 server locations in 46 countries around the world. 

In 2019, PIA was acquired by Kape Technologies, the company behind competing services, Cyberghost and Zenmate.

Positives

  • Proven Privacy Record
  • Native Applications
  • Industry-Standard Encryption
  • Strict No-Logging Policy
  • Ads & Tracker Blocker
  • VPN Kill Switch
  • Supports Different Ciphers/Encryption Levels

Negatives

  • Acquisition by a competitor may not please everyone
  • No Dedicated Tor Servers
  • Does Not Unblock Netflix
  • Privacy Policy Could Be Easier to Read

What to Consider Before Buying a VPN Subscription?

A good VPN service needs robust policies regarding:

  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Anonymity

The best way to achieve this, in my opinion, is to put forth and to commit to a strong no-logging policy

And this supersedes jurisdiction, because what’s the point of using a VPN located outside of the 14 Eyes alliance if the VPN provider logs your traffic? 

And as we’ll see with PIA, yes, A U.S.-based VPN can protect your privacy – so long as it doesn’t log.

Another thing to consider is the payment methods accepted by the provider. 

This may not be immediately obvious, but the money trail you leave behind can compromise your anonymity. 

A  serious VPN provider who’s committed to privacy should always accept cash, bitcoin, or both.


Features & Convenience

Speed

I performed a quick speed test while connected to PIA’s network. 

I was able to test it on my shiny new 100Mbps download and 30Mbps upload connection. When testing over my ISP connection, I was getting exactly what I paid for.

ISP speed test

I chose to perform the test on a New York server, which is geographically close to my actual physical location.

I performed the speed test three times, for added accuracy. And I took the average of the three tests as the final value.

PIA Speed Tests

Tested on a 100Mbps (Download) and 30Mbps (Upload) network

  • Server: U.S.A., New York
  • Average Download Speed: 94.35Mbps
  • Average Upload Speed: 25.05Mbps

Aside from a small loss of upload speed, PIA’s VPN is effectively seamless.

To top it all off, I’m using the highest encryption levels PIA offers and their connection is still blazing fast. I’m impressed.

PIA Settings
The encryption settings used for the speed tests.

Of course, the closer the server is to your actual location, the faster the VPN will be. So I would expect the speeds to drop when connected to servers that are geographically further away. 

Nonetheless, normally, when speed testing a VPN, you can notice a bigger speed decrease than this, even when connected to a nearby server. 

During the normal course of your online activities, this decrease would not be noticeable.

This is one of the fastest VPNs I’ve seen.

Pricing

PIA Plans
PIA's subscription plans.

Private Internet Access is one of the more affordable VPN providers around.

They offer three subscription terms:

  • 9.95 USD for one month of service
  • 35.95 USD for six months of service (works out to 5.99 USD per month)
  • 39.95 USD for one year of service (works out to 2.85 USD per month)

These prices – particularly the one year term – are excellent. Even at 5.99$ a month, it’s a great deal for a high-quality VPN.

All subscriptions are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Streaming 

Private Internet Access’ service is streaming-friendly. This is good because there are many advantages to streaming over a VPN:

  • The security benefit of a fully encrypted connection
  • Avoiding ISP bandwidth throttling
  • Circumventing geo-restrictions

What About Netflix?

Netflix Logo

As you may already know, In 2018, Netflix started actively blocking VPNs from accessing its service. 

They do this in order to respect the geo-restrictions content producers and publishers impose on their content.

Some VPN providers offer ways to bypass the Netflix VPN ban. Sadly, PIA is not one of them

While you may get lucky and be granted access from a server that was just added to PIA’s network, there is no guarantee of that. And PIA is not selling Netflix unblocking services.

In my tests, I was not able to access Netflix over PIA.

Torrenting / P2P

PIA is one of many VPN providers who don’t mention torrenting on their site. 

If we look at TorrentFreak’s 2020 edition of their Which VPN Services Keep You Anonymous? guide, we find the following:

"BitTorrent and file-sharing traffic are not discriminated against or throttled. We do not censor our traffic, period. We do provide port forwarding services on some of our VPN servers, check here for the full list of PIA VPN servers that support port forwarding." 

So PIA is P2P-friendly. They just don’t make a big deal about it. 

tested P2P over PIA, and it worked very well.

Torrenting over PIA
Torrenting over PIA.
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User-Friendliness

Supported Platforms

PIA platforms

As you can see from the above screenshot, PIA supports all major operating systems as well as several different routers.

Good coverage.

Native Apps

PIA App
PIA's native macOS client app.

Private Internet Access have native applications for the following platforms:

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • Linux
  • iOS
  • Chrome/Firefox/Opera Browser Extensions

This is again good coverage.

The native macOS app isn’t the most clearly laid out app I’ve seen. But it gets the job done. And once you get used to it, you can navigate it pretty quickly.

Simultaneous Connections

Ten

Private Internet Access allows up to 10 simultaneous connections. This is more generous than most providers, in terms of simultaneous connections.

As with most providers, you can also configure PIA on your router

This way you can bypass the 10 simultaneous connections limit and connect as many devices as you want to the VPN. Your router only counts as one device.

Number of Servers

PIA Servers

PIA provides access to 3292 server locations, in 46 countries. More than enough for anyone.

Ads & Tracker Blocker

PIA MACE
PIA's MACE in-app setting.

Private Internet Access includes an ad & tracker blocker, called MACE, in their native apps. 

Enabling MACE will obviously provide a better online experience as well as enhance your privacy by blocking all the pesky Internet trackers that seem to grow in numbers every day.

We’re happy to see PIA support this feature and hope that more VPN providers do so too.

Tor Support

TOR

Private Internet Access do not provide Tor over VPN servers that route your traffic through the Tor network.

Like most VPN providers without dedicated Tor servers, they provide a support document with instructions on how to use the Tor Browser over VPN, with pros and cons.

We hope that PIA will provide Tor over VPN services in the future.

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Logs and Privacy

Let’s take a look at PIA’s policies. A VPN provider’s policies are obviously of critical importance when assessing how private and secure a VPN service is.

Have they ever spied on their users at the request of law enforcement?

We weren’t able to find any evidence that Private Internet Access have ever spied on their users. 

They don’t publish a warrant canary either, so no help there.

We’ve no reason to doubt this. But looking again at TorrentFreaks’s VPN guide, we find this:

“[Q:] What steps would be taken in the event a court orders your company to identify an active or former user of your service? How would your company respond to a court order that requires you to log activity for a user going forward? Have these scenarios ever played out in the past?” 

“[A:] Every subpoena is scrutinized to the highest extent for compliance with both the “spirit” and “letter of the law.” While we have not received any valid court orders, we do periodically receive subpoenas from law enforcement agencies that we scrutinize for compliance and respond accordingly. If forced to provide logs by a court of law, Private Internet Access has verified in court multiple times that we keep no logs. Our company would fight a court order that requires us to do any sort of logging.” 

And let’s not forget the FBI’s failed 2016 subpoena (more in the “Jurisdiction” section). PIA stood by its policies and stood up for its users’ privacy.

Would they warn users if/when compromised by law enforcement?

Having nothing to share, they couldn’t even fulfill law enforcement’s request. And they didn’t.

How do they respond to DMCA notices?

From TorrentFreak’s VPN guide:

"Primarily, we stress that our service is not intended to be used for illegal activities and copyright infringements and we request our users to comply with this when accepting our Terms of Use. That said, we have an active, proprietary system in place to help mitigate abuse that preserves the privacy of our customers while following the letter of the law." 

And again, this is very good. Gotta love no-logging. 🙂

Logging Policy

We know that PIA doesn’t log – they’ve proved it. They do mention their no-logging policy on their website. But they don’t make as big a deal about it as other providers.

Turning to TorrentFreak’s guide, we find this:

"We do not store any logs relating to traffic, session, DNS or metadata. There are no logs for any person or entity to match an IP address and a timestamp to a current or former user of our service. In summary, we do not log, period. Privacy is our policy.” 

I would like to see them promote this a little bit more.

Privacy Policy

I was a little bit disappointed with PIA’s privacy policy. 

Not that there’s anything to worry about. But it’s pretty much written in Legalese. And it goes more into the types of data they collect than how they safeguard your privacy. 

Again, nothing ominous here. But many providers provide a point by point, readable, privacy policy, outlining their practices.

it would be nice to see Private Internet Access follow suit.

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Security & Encryption

Supported VPN Protocols

Private Internet Access support: 

  • IKEv2/IPSec
  • OpenVPN
  • WireGuard
  • L2TP/IPSec
  • PPTP

PIA supports all of these protocols, but not in every app. 

Their Desktop clients support only OpenVPN and WireGuard. While their iOS and Android clients support IKEv2, OpenVPN, and WireGuard.

All three protocols are considered robust and secure. However, it should be noted that WireGuard is still considered to be in development. Though its recent inclusion in the Linux kernel demonstrate that it’s soon ready for prime time.

And while it is slated to be the next big VPN protocol, for now, it should be treated with caution. This is made clear in the PIA app.

For L2TP/IPSec and PPTP, both weak and insecure protocols, you need to manually configure a device that natively supports the protocols.

I’m happy that there are hoops to jump through in order to use L2Tp/IPSec or PPTP. This will indirectly protect users from the illusion of security.

Encryption Level & Supported Ciphers

PIA takes a thoughtful approach to cipher selection and encryption level.

Their apps are configured with default settings, that should suit most users. But more advanced users can go into the app and choose from a limited number of options.

What I like is that their default settings, while offering the minimum encryption level supported by PIA, are still very secure

Playing around with the encryption settings can only result in stronger encryption and perhaps a slightly slower connection. But you can’t shoot yourself in the foot.

DNS Leak Protection

Faucet

DNS Leak Protection is achieved by running no-logging DNS servers that are only accessible from inside the VPN tunnel. This is quickly becoming the default for serious VPN providers. 

And PIA is no exception.

But PIA’s client apps, while set up by default to use PIA’s internal no-logging DNS servers, they also allow you to set whichever DNS server you like.

I would recommend new users stick to the default configuration. But more advanced users will be able to further customize their experience on PIA.

VPN Kill Switch

A VPN Kill Switch blocks all traffic from exiting your device should the VPN connection ever drop. 

This is critical, especially for devices that may be unattended for some time. Without a kill switch, your traffic will go out to the Internet unencrypted. 

PIA include a VPN Kill Switch in all of their apps.

Jurisdiction

Statue of Liberty

For a lot of VPN users, jurisdiction is a determining factor in choosing a provider. And most would rather stay away from VPN providers based in any of the 14 Eyes countries. 

Private Internet Access is based in the United States.

However, as I’ve argued many times, I believe the VPN provider’s logging policy to be more important than its jurisdiction

Because if a provider logs your online activities, the jurisdiction won’t help you.

And PIA exemplifies how a provider’s logging policies are more important than its jurisdiction. Yes, we’re finally getting to the FBI‘s failed subpoena. 

As I wrote in our 5, 9 & 14 Eyes: What Does It All Mean For VPN Users? article, in 2016, PIA was handed a subpoena, requesting they hand over identifying information on a PIA user that the FBI was investigating. 

And PIA responded by stating that they had nothing to share because of their no-logging policy

And they shared nothing with the FBI, despite being based in the U.S.

For more details regarding this case, have a look at the linked article above.

Warrant Canary

A warrant canary is a frequently published statement on behalf of a service provider, that they have not received a secret warrant or a gag order from law enforcement. 

Should the provider take the warrant canary down, it will indirectly signal to their user base that they’ve been compromised, without violating the gag order they’ve presumably been served.

PIA does not publish a warrant canary at this time. But they do provide a transparency report.

PIA Transparency Report
PIA's latest transparency report.

Do They Own or Rent Their Infrastructure?

Hard Disk

To own or to rent… 

Owning your infrastructure provides a higher standard of security, by making third-party access much less likely.

While renting your infrastructure enables you to scale your network much more quickly and, hence, be able to deploy more locations, more quickly.

PIA rents its entire infrastructure.

When asked by TorrentFreak if they own or rent their infrastructure, PIA had this to say:

"We utilize our own bare metal servers in third-party data centers that are operated by trusted business partners with whom we have completed serious due diligence. When countries or data centers fail to meet our high privacy standards, we remove our VPN server presence as has previously happened in Brazil, South Korea, Germany, and Russia." 

Have They Ever Been Hacked?

Hacking

As far as we know, PIA’s service has never been hacked.

What Is Collected During Sign-Up?

PIA SignUp

PIA provides an easy signup process, with minimal information required. The only piece of information required is a valid email address. Nothing more. Nice.

Accepted Payment Methods

PIA Payment Methods
PIA's accepted payment methods.

As we mentioned above, the accepted payment methods are important in regards to privacy and anonymity.

PIA offers a wide range of payment options, which include cryptocurrency. So anonymous payments are possible with PIA.

All in all, very good.

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Standout Features

Split Tunnelling

Train Tracks

PIA supports split tunnelling. Split tunnelling is another expression for what is called Policy-based routing. 

Policy-based routing enables you to, for example, route your Internet traffic through the VPN tunnel, but keep your local access to your LAN network.

This enables you to access any internal resources you may have on your network, like a file server, while connected to the VPN.

Alternatively, with selective routing, you can decide to only route certain applications through the VPN while letting other traffic flow through your ISP connection. 

Or only allow specified apps through the VPN.

SOCKS5 Proxy

Private Internet Access also provides access to a SOCKS5 proxy server, which you can use with or without the VPN

Using it with a VPN adds an additional level of security to your connection. This is a little bit like a multi-hop VPN, except that one of the hops is to a SOCKS5 proxy server.

It can also be used standalone, without the VPN, in order to get faster P2P downloads, for example. 

The speed increase is due to the lack of encryption. Less overhead means more speed. But remember that this is at the cost of lowering your security.

As ever, make your choices carefully. I would not recommend disabling your VPN when torrenting.


What Others Are Saying About Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access is one of the most popular and well-known VPN providers around. It was extremely easy to find other reviews online.

pcmag.com

PCMage_small

“Private Internet Access offers a robust VPN service with an excellent new app interface and up to 10 simultaneous connections. It's a strong choice for large families or people with many devices in need of VPN protection.” 

vpnmentor.com

VPN Mentor Logo

“PIA is a user-friendly VPN with robust security features that are easy to configure to meet your preferences. The VPN performs well when it comes to security and anonymity, but inconsistent speeds and shaky geo-spoofing abilities mean that PIA isn’t the best choice for streaming.” 

restoreprivacy.com

Restore Privacy Logo

“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.”


Private Internet Access Alternatives

NordVPN

NordVPN Logo

Our score: 8.5 

Visit NordVPN

NordVPN is an excellent VPN service, based in Panama. They offer a great mix of security, privacy, and convenience. 

DNS leak protection, CyberSec, strong encryption, VPN kill switch have you covered on the security front. 

A strict no-logging policy, a thoughtfully written Privacy Policy, Bitcoin payments, and a Panama-based jurisdiction have your back for privacy. 

And dedicated P2P servers, native apps for every major (and not so major) platform, and up to six simultaneous connections (or more with a VPN router) make the service very user-friendly.

  • Industry-Standard Encryption
  • Native Applications
  • Strict No-Logging Policy
  • Ads & Tracker Blocker
  • VPN Kill Switch
  • Tor Over VPN

IVPN

IVPN is a Gibraltar based VPN provider. They are very much focused on privacy and security as their simple privacy policy makes clear. 

They do not log any user activity and they own and control all of their infrastructure

They support almost every platform available and offer helpful guides on setting up their service on all of their supported platforms.

  • Based in Gibraltar
  • Strict no-logging policy
  • Support Multihop servers
  • Accept cash and bitcoin
  • Blocks ads & trackers (AntiTracker)
  • Own and control their entire infrastructure

Surfshark

Surfshark is a VPN provider based in the British Virgin Islands, which was founded in 2018. 

They take a strong stance on user privacy and security, while still offering some very convenient features, such as background P2P routing.

Their sign-up process is minimalistic, in that it only requires a valid email address from you.

They only support IKEv2 and OpenVPN. And while this may seem restrictive, we commend Surfshark for not weakening their user's security by supporting insecure or obsolete VPN protocols

Surfshark offers a very good service with a strong focus on privacy. And at 1.99 USD per month, it’s the least expensive, serious VPN service we’ve seen.

  • Industry-Standard Encryption
  • Native Applications
  • Strict No-Logging Policy
  • Ads & Tracker Blocker
  • VPN Kill Switch
  • Passed Security Audit in 2018

Conclusion

Private Internet Access has been around for a long time and have enjoyed sustained popularity among VPN users. They’re probably doing something right…

They have robust policies in place for security and privacy. And, unlike many, if not most VPN providers, they have a proven track record when it comes to standing by its policies and standing up for its users.

They also have many convenience features, like split-tunneling and an ad & tracker blocker.

Their privacy policy could be simplified and made clearer – as could their app design. And we’d like to see Tor over VPN services, as this can be very useful to people in more repressive regimes.

But all things considered, PIA is a solid choice for privacy-minded VPN users. 

Recommended.

If you’d like more information on other VPN providers, we’ve also reviewed NordVPNSurfsharkIPVanish, and ExpressVPN. Check them out.

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Further Reading

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