PrivateInternetAccess [PIA] Review

PIA Review
PrivateInternetAccess

Overall
4.2









  • Price









  • Service









  • Apps









  • Speed









  • Policy









Summary

PrivateInternetAccess offers an all round decent service at an unmatched budget price.

Pros

  • Respectable speeds.
  • Many encryption levels.
  • Modern desktop apps.
  • Low price.
  • Works with US & UK Netflix.

Cons

  • Doesn't work with BBC iPlayer.
  • Unreliable in China.


Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most well-known and respected names in the VPN industry. Known for their privacy protections and low prices, they're loved by many but avoided by some, which is why this VPN review is so important.

We've been reviewing Private Internet Access (PIA) since 2013 and they've continued to offer an excellent service throughout the years, but is this the case in 2021?

We have been putting Private Internet Access VPN through its paces over the past few weeks to see whether their 2021 VPN service is still up there with the best. What will our VPN review uncover?

Service

Speeds

Download speed

Using Private Internet Access VPN for a range of everyday tasks posed no issues for us.

There were no issues staying connected daily for a range of regular activities such as web-browsing, sending email, streaming video and any other general internet usage.

To put Private Internet Access VPN speeds to the test, we ran some detailed VPN speed tests on their service.

Using a regular UK home internet connection and a Windows desktop system, we downloaded a test-file and measured the download speed. We then measured the download speed again while connected to a selection of servers from Private Internet Access VPN.

We carried out these tests using their Windows application with OpenVPN using AES-256-GCM encryption. Our home connection speed was: 63.40 Mbps

When connected to the PrivateInternetAccess servers we achieved the following speeds:

  • UK – 60.88 Mbps
  • France – 56.68 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 60.2 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 60.87 Mbps
  • Sweden – 58.84 Mbps
  • New York, US – 58.93 Mbps
  • Australia – 59.60 Mbps

While the speeds aren't the very fastest we've seen in a speed test, they are up there with the best of them.

For such an affordable VPN service we were astounded at the speeds achieved. It's an area that Private Internet Access has seriously improved in recent years.

What you now have is a low-priced VPN with many of the bells and whistles that some of the more expensive VPN providers offer while competing on speed.

Please note that a speed test is not 100% reliable. They are merely a glimpse of performance at a certain period. Your results may differ depending on your location, time of usage, services accessed, device used and many other factors.

Logging

Private Internet Access VPN claims to be a no-log VPN service.

What this means is none of your activity or connection data is recorded or stored. PIA even go so far as to state on their website that they have “No Traffic or Request logs”.

However, being based in the US has raised questions from some users. Although there are no mandatory requirements to log user data in the US, some question how a privacy service can continue to operate without interference from many of America's three letter agencies.

On a positive note, unlike many other VPNs, Private Internet Access VPN have had their logging policy tested in the US courts on numerous occasions.

Both in 2016 and more recently in 2018, PIA found itself caught up in legal cases which resulted in them being unable to assist due to their no logging policy. You can read more about those cases here and here.

Due to those cases, you should be confident that Private Internet Access (PIA) adheres to their claims and will keep your internet access private.

Simultaneous Connections

Private Internet Access VPN currently allows you to use one client account to connect up to 10 devices at the same time.

This limit was upgraded from 5 simultaneous connections fairly recently and now means that PIA has one of the most competitive simultaneous connection offerings of any VPN.

Aside from those few VPNs that offer unlimited connections, this is as good as it gets.

Jurisdiction

Private Internet Access VPN is based in the United States. This means it operates under US law and is based in one of the 5 eyes countries.

On the face of it, that doesn't sound great and we would prefer an offshore location.

But the truth is that the US does not have any mandatory data retention laws so users don't have too much to worry about at the moment.

Private Internet Access VPN does to respond to court orders from the US government but if it isn't collecting data, it can still do this without compromising user privacy.

Customer Support

Private Internet Access VPN offers a 24/7 live chat customer support feature. This is great because it means that PIA users can get help with any problems they might encounter almost instantaneously which is impressive customer service.

In our tests, we found their 24/7 live chat support team to be friendly, helpful, and responsive. There wasn't a single customer service query that our reviews put to them that they couldn't answer or direct you to the relevant information.

If a live chat support service isn't for you, there are a number of other customer support features available including ticket support via emails and an extensive range of online tutorials.

It is an impressive customer support offering.

Server Locations

Server locations

Private Internet Access VPN have always had one of the smaller selections of VPN server locations but in recent years they have been swelling the number of VPN servers they have on offer quite considerably.

PIA now has VPN servers available in 99 locations and 77 countries across the world. This is an impressive increase in server capacity from our previous Private Internet Access review.

The PIA server network now covers most corners of the globe including the US and the rest of North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and India, Asia and Australia & New Zealand. They also have servers in South Africa.

In Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the US, they even have multiple cities available to connect to. There is a particularly extensive range of US servers available.

Individual VPN servers total over 24,967 making them one of the largest providers in terms of individual servers alone.

Does Private Internet Access use Virtual Servers?

Private Internet Access VPN clearly states on its website that it only uses bare-metal servers for its VPN network. The reasons they give for this are for enhanced security and performance. However, this is a little misleading.

A look at their server list shows locations include places like China where it is all but impossible to safely run a physical VPN server.

On closer inspection, a number of server locations are described on the site as “geolocations”. What Private Internet Access means by that is that they are virtual servers and not physical ones.

So, while they are technically bare-metal servers, they are actually using virtual servers extensively. They are bare metal but not located where they claim. It's important to understand this subtle difference.

However, at least PIA are a little bit open about which servers are virtual and which aren't, which cannot be said for many other VPNs.

Does Private Internet Access work in China?

Private Internet Access VPN claims their service works well in China. Plus, one of the leading websites monitoring the situation agrees.

However, in our on the ground tests, PIA did not work in China, we've also seen multiple other sources online that reaffirm the same.

Internet access is always tricky in China but sadly PIA doesn't prove reliable enough for this purpose and there are better VPNs working in China out there.

Does Private Internet Access offer Dedicated IP Addresses?

Yes. Private Internet Access VPN has just announced the launch of a dedicated IP Address feature.

That means that you can now get a dedicated IP Address and still be connected to the PIA VPN service. A dedicated IP Address is an IP address that is just used by you so it is much harder to see that you are using a VPN.

However, there is an extra charge for accessing the dedicated IP addresses feature and you will have to either opt into it when you sign up for PIA or add it to your existing PIA package.

Does Private Internet Access offer split tunneling?

Yes, there is a split tunneling feature available with PIA. This means you can choose which apps you want to run through your VPN connection and which you don't.

Split tunneling is a fairly advanced VPN feature and we are delighted to see it included here.

Security and Safety

Protocols & Encryption

Protocols and encryption

Private Internet Access VPN continues to offer support for the PPTP, OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec VPN protocols. Little has changed in this regard over the years.

But the big advance they have made since out last Private Internet Access review is the addition of the new WireGuard protocol to all of their servers. This protocol offers a terrific combination of fast connection speeds and strong security and is undoubtedly the future of VPN protocols.

PIA made substantial donations to the project while it was in development so it's no surprise to see them so keen to adopt it now it is ready to use.

PIA also does encryption very well too. They've been at the forefront of providing strong encryption for many years and this remains the case.

Encryption options include AES-128 and AES-256 in both CBC and GSM modes. You can also connect without encryption which we wouldn't recommend unless you're doing something simple like streaming video.

Data Authentication is handled by SHA1 or SHA256. Handshaking options include RSA-2048, 3072 or 4096. The opportunity to use ECC exists too.

Most of this encryption is customisable from within the PIA apps. They've got a dedicated encryption page where you can read more about their available options.

PIA quite simply offers some of the best privacy and security features around.

DNS Leak Testing

Private Internet Access promises to be a leak-free VPN, but how can you test this promise?

While PIA doesn't have an inbuilt DNS leak testing feature of its own, as some other VPNs do, it does offer links all over its website to dnsleak.com, which is one of the best DNS leak test sites around.

This means DNS leak protection shouldn't be a problem with PIA as a DNS leak test can be easily accessed along with various other security features.

Are there any Private Internet Access Security Incidents?

Not that we are aware of.

However, at the end of 2019, PIA was purchased by Kape Technologies, a company which has been linked with a prior company with a somewhat shady history.

There is nothing to suggest that they are doing the same thing with PIA, but privacy-conscious users are still wary on this basis.

Is Private Internet Access safe for Torrenting?

Yes, we believe Private Internet Access is perfectly safe for torrenting.

Its connection speeds are good and it also offers port forwarding, which is a useful additional features. Frequent torrent downloaders are always on the look out for port forwarding. There are lots of servers to choose from too.

One slight downside is that US jurisdiction which could mean legal issues should you ever be caught. But PIA's solid no user logs promise and their impressive kill switch feature means there is no reason this should ever happen.

Policies

Private Internet Access has a range of policies covering everything from their Terms of Service to Export Control Policy and DMCA.

Much of this won't be of interest to you and a lot of it is legal jargon.

Their Terms of Service is annotated in plain English which is likely a nod to GDPR and other international regulations. From a layman's perspective, this is a useful addition and allows you to understand the basics of the more lengthy legal texts.

PIA is clear on what they retain and much of this relates either to billing or your email address. They also go on to state that they will scrutinise any legal requests and try and narrow down the scope of information provided if it isn't valid in law.

They also state they can't share what they don't have.

We saw nothing of concern in their policies, although they are lengthy legal texts which we are not qualified to understand or explain.

Apps

Apps

Mobile Apps

Private Internet Access offers VPN apps for both Android mobile devices and Apple iOS such as the iPhone and iPad.

So whatever phone or tablet you've got you'll be able to connect to their service and keep yourself protected. We tested their Android app so will be basing our findings on that.

As with most VPN apps you can connect quickly from the main screen. Simply flick their ‘on' switch to get connected. If you're new to VPN use or you don't want to concern yourselves with the inner-workings, then this quick connect feature will be right up your street.

You can access countries by clicking an option from the main app window which opens a country list sorted alphabetically. Unfortunately there's no option to connect to individual servers like with some other services' apps – instead, the PIA VPN app will pick the best in that location for you.

PIA Android

While the app hasn't changed much visually since we last tested it, it has changed somewhat behind the scenes. The settings area is a techie's dream so if you want customisation and plenty of options to fiddle with then we haven't seen a better app for this than PIA's offering.

Options include switching between UDP and TCP, Request port forwarding, Remote port selection, Local port selection, DNS set-up, Use small packets amongst others.

There's also a Kill Switch, IPv6 blocking which PIA call ‘Aggressive' and the ability to block access to the local network. There's also a ‘VPN always on' feature accessible for Android 8.0+ users which PIA claims is better than using a Kill Switch.

The PIA VPN client stands out in the encryption stakes. While most mobile apps don't let you play around with these options, PIA's app enables you to select everything from Data Encryption used to Data Authentication and even the size of the Handshaking key.

There's an elegant split tunnelling feature that is easy to configure and push apps outside of the VPN connection. It's also one of the only Android apps to offer a ‘widget' feature that will allow you to one-click connect and disconnect from your phone's main screen.

PIA Android Widget

Overall the mobile apps are easy enough for the beginner to use and feature-rich enough to keep advanced users happy.

Desktop Apps

Private Internet Access completely overhauled their desktop VPN apps a few years back and not much has changed since.

Available as both a Windows client and a Mac OS client, their new apps sport a minimal-modern design that allow customisation to your liking. Oh, and they also have a Linux app too.

We tested the Windows client. From the home screen you can connect with one-click if you wish. You need not do anything more. If you want to choose a server location, then it's only an extra click away.

As with their mobile VPN apps you can't select individual servers but can choose countries and in some cases, individual cities sorted either by name or latency.

We liked the new design that lets you pin features to the main screen or remove those you dislike to limit the clutter. This modular approach is something new and a neat feature.

PIA Windows application

For all the positives of the new desktop VPN client, we weren't keen on how it remains stuck to the notification area. While this is intuitive meaning it closes automatically when needed we felt restricted not being able to move it around the screen.

As with its older app, Private Internet Access settings area is rich in options. Standout features include their Kill Switch and PIA Mace function that allows you to block ads, trackers and other nasties.

Most connection and encryption options are customisable including everything from DNS servers to encryption and handshaking used.

The app only allows connection via OpenVPN or WireGuard and while that's not a significant issue, if you have needs for the other supported protocols, you'll have to look for other methods to connect.

Overall we liked the new slick design which makes getting protected quick and effortless. If only you could ‘unhook' that window from the notification area, it would round the app off.

Other Apps

Unfortunately, there's no Amazon app for Fire TV devices or Amazon Firesticks as many of PIA's rivals already offer.

That's a shame and something we had hoped PIA would have rectified by now. If you're a big streamer and prefer to watch on your TV then you'll need to stick with a VPN service that supports Amazon Fire TV.

Does Private Internet Access support browser extensions?

Yes. Private Internet Access does offer browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

We are not big fans of browser extensions because they only offer limited protections and apps are much more comprehensive. But if you like them, PIA has a good selection.

Does Private Internet Access support Routers?

Disappointingly, Private Internet Access does not offer support for VPN-enabled routers either.

This is a bit narrow-minded of them and we would like to see them rolling out a far broader range of support, including for routers sooner rather than later.

Streaming

Streaming

Does Private Internet Access work with Netflix?

Netflix fans will be pleased as both US Netflix and UK Netflix are accessible on PIA.

However, we didn't find PIA quite as reliable at unblocking either US Netflix or UK Netflix as some other VPNs.

Yes, Netflix can work on PIA and when it does, you will be able to access your favourite Netflix TV shows and movies without any problems thanks to their decent speeds. But we did sometimes have to reconnect quite a few times and that is not ideal.

Does Private Internet Access work with BBC iPlayer?

Unfortunately, BBC iPlayer didn't work in our tests across all three of their UK server locations.

The BBC iPlayer has done quite a bit to try and block people from using VPNs on it in recent times. But nevertheless, most other VPNs have managed to find a way around this. PIA is one VPN that hasn't and it is in an increasingly small minority in that regard.

Does Private Internet Access work with Disney+?

No. In our tests, PIA was unable to unblock Disney+. We tried on various servers in the US and elsewhere but with no joy.

This is a shame as Disney+ is one of the most popular new streaming services around. But it is also one of the hottest on VPN users too and as far as we know, it had taken steps to keep PIA and other VPNs out before it even launched.

Unless PIA is inclined to try and find a way to work wit Disney+, it was always facing an uphill battle and so it has proved.

Does Private Internet Access work with Amazon Prime?

Again, no. Amazon Prime video is one of the hardest streaming services for a VPN to be able to work with and unfortunately PIA is not able to unblock it at the moment according to our tests.

There have been some reports about certain US servers (Texas) working with Prime video, but they didn't at the time we were testing them.

Other Services

There are a number of online streaming services that don't take too much effort to unblock. Things like ITV Hub, My5, and 4OD can all be unblocked without too much trouble using PIA.

But if a streaming service makes any significant effort to block a VPN provider, PIA tends not to work with them.

Prices and Plans

Prices and Plans

Private Internet Access offers packages in the same manner as almost every other VPN service.

There is one package available and you can subscribe for different periods. The benefit of this is the prices will be reduced when you commit to more extended periods.

Current prices for the service are as follows:

  • 1-Month: $9.95 /mo (~£8.09)
  • 1-Year: $3.33 /mo (~£2.71)
  • 2 Years: $2.69 /mo (~£2.19)

Since last year, PIA have dropped their 6 month price plan and added a two year plan. They have also increased their monthly charge quite noticeably.

The new two year plan is obviously to encourage a person thinking of becoming a member to sign up for a longer term deal. If you are thinking of becoming a member, we would recommend the one year deal which probably offers the best value for money.

As Private Internet Access has continued to offer a reliable and robust service over the past six years, there should be little risk in signing up for their longer one or two year plan.

We are also pleased to see that their money-back guarantee has been upped from the former 7-day deal to a 30-day money-back guarantee. This is the industry standard these days and if PIA wants to be a major player, a 30-day money back guarantee is the minimum it has to be offering to its users.

There are occasional PIA offers available on their website. But while PIA offers are always welcome, these prices are already competitive enough.

Payment Options

Another standout feature of Private Internet Access is the wide range of payments accepted. While they accept all regular types of payments, they also take more anonymous types such as BitPay, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Zcash and others.

They also accept payment via gift card which allows you to sign up without handing over any of your financial details. Financial details being the one area where many VPN services gain knowledge of your identity. Top marks to PIA for this feature.

You can also pay using anonymous giftcards for stores like Walmart, Starbucks and Best Buy.

Verdict

Verdict

Private Internet Access VPN is one of the oldest VPN services and over the years they've been slowly improving. So, what conclusions can we reach about this established VPN company from our VPN review?

There is no doubt our review has found that PIA has come on in leaps and bounds over the past twelve months in many regards.

There are aspects of their service which the review shows are up there with the very best VPN providers on the market. But there are still areas of their service that our review found are lacking and this is a shame.

Their website is still one of the worst we've seen and looks like a throwback to the late '90s. While they can work with Netflix, their support for streaming services is way below par and something they have to improve and fast if they want to keep pace with other VPN competitors.

We would also like to see them making more of an effort to get working in China and cutting down on virtual servers by the time of our next review too.

On the flip side, we loved their desktop apps which are easy to use. PIA overall is easy to use if you're a beginner and has a broad range of features to keep you happy if you're more experienced.

Their privacy and security offerings are certainly up there with the best and will keep your internet connection secure. Encryption is solid and whole their no user logs privacy promise hasn't been independently audited, it has been tested in the US courts and found to be robust.

Speeds are generally good too and with extra features like a kill switch and links to DNS leak testing and other support tools as well, there is much to praise.

Prices are a little higher than they were in our last review, but their 1-year and 2-year packages are extremely competitively priced.

Overall PIA is one of the better VPN services out there. But it is not a perfect VPN by any means. There are one or two areas that let them down and we would like to see more sign of them making improvements in these areas before we wholeheartedly endorse them.

But if you're in the market for a new VPN service then this affordable service is definitely worth consideration.

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Christopher Seward

Author: Christopher Seward

After 25 years of using the internet, Christopher launched one of the very first VPN comparison websites in 2013. An expert in the field his reviews, testing and knowledge have helped thousands of users get the correct VPN for their needs.

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