PrivateInternetAccess Review – A Great Overall VPN
Does It Still Belong to Top 10 VPN Services?
Private Internet Access also offers dedicated apps for all operating systems such as Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux, and Android. They also provide comprehensive browser plugins for Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome. The installation of these plugins is quick and easy. However, some users report that the app can seem quite complicated at first. While it does come with many features, actually using the app is simple and takes no time to get used to. The PIA app is perfect for users of all skill levels and can be used by beginners and experts alike.
The app is also available in a generous 19 different languages. You also have the ability to customize the app, to change the appearance to either light or dark modes. You can also choose to display the app in either the compact mode (default) or in a more detailed mode that can showcase some quick settings. The app also shows your current performance and how many days you have to remain on your subscription.
Pricing Options and Features
Private Internet Access offers three different billing options, the first starting at $9.95 billed monthly. This is actually an increase from their bottom barrel pricing of just $6.96 per month previously. It is also possible to choose six months of VPN service for $35.95 or a full-year option for $39.95. The tiers all include the same exact options and features. They do not restrict the more advanced tools to only the higher-paying levels. The price jump is also quite significant and offers a fair amount of savings when you purchase the full year.
Despite the recent increase in pricing, the newly adjusted monthly fee is still slightly less than the average price of other comparable VPNs on the market. The industry standard is currently at $10.10. Since it is an annual fee, it also falls far lower than the average $73.06 each year for the industry.
Other VPNs that charge more than the average fee, such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN, tend to offset the price by including additional features such as more servers or increased security. Many VPNs are also producing more products for less cost. For instance, the Mullvad VPN offers its standard services at just $5.46 per month.
Private Internet Access may have increased their prices, but there are still many affordable VPNs to choose from if this one is now outside your price range. For instance, Hotspot Shield and TunnelBear are great options if you are looking for a free VPN. However, they do have data caps. There is a genuinely free option in ProtonVPN that does not place restrictions on their users.
In addition to many plan options, there are also many options for making payments. Private Internet Access accepts Bitcoin, Etherium, Amazon Payments, and PayPal, among many others. PIA also accepts several gift cards from several private retailers. It is possible to pay for any of these cards using cash and use a gift card; you can remain relatively anonymous.
In the event that you ever need to cancel PIA, the account page features a large “cancel” button, which can be used at any time.
In the past, using a PIA subscription allowed users to use up to five different devices at one time, which is right at the industry standard. After they made their recent price increase, they also increased the number of devices that can be connected at one time. Currently, PIA allows up to 10 different devices to be connected at any given time, which is more than NordVPN (6) and tied with IPVanish.
It is interesting to note that the industry is slowly moving away from this model altogether. Many VPNs are allowing users to connect an unlimited number of devices at any time. This is an exciting move, especially if price points remain the same.
If you are looking to connect more than ten different devices, you can always choose to set up a router using the PIA software. By installing the software on the router, you allow every connected device to connect through the VPN from a single point, so you are only using up one slot on the device allowance. Many other VPN services are selling different streaming devices with their software pre-installed, but this is also a great choice if you plan on doing a lot of streaming.
Unfortunately, Private Internet Access is a bit lacking in their lineup of add-ons. You do not have the option to purchase a static IP address as you do with other VPN services. Additionally, they lack the option to upgrade the number of device connections. Those two add-ons can be overlooked in most cases since PIA already offers ten links, and many users don’t use the optional static-IP. Even without these extras, PIA offers what most users are looking for when they are shopping for a new VPN.
Private Internet Access does allow their users to use P2P file sharing as well as BitTorrent, which can be a valuable benefit. The best part is that they do not require their users to limit their torrenting to only specific torrenting servers, which can be quite convenient.
PIA also utilizes what is known as split tunneling, allowing users to choose which apps use the VPN to send and receive information. This feature is quite handy when using low-security, high-bandwidth activities, such as streaming video.
Unfortunately, the list of special features for Private Internet Access is short, yet their services are reliable and trustworthy. One negative aspect that is worth mentioning is that PIA does not currently support Tor anonymization while connected to the VPN and does not support multihop connections either. This would allow your VPN connection to be routed through an additional server, which would make it more difficult to intercept. If you are looking for a VPN with all of these features, you might want to check out ProtonVPN.
However, one area where Private Internet Access excels is in their customer loyalty and retention – most customers who have used the service report being delighted with the level of service and the price.
VPN technology comes in many different varieties and capacities, and each uses various protocols to create encrypted tunnels. One of the most preferred protocols for this purpose is called OpenVPN. Opened VPN is an open-source project that is regularly examined and scrutinized by outside volunteers.
Currently, Private Internet Access supports the use of both OpenVPN and the more outdated L2TP/IPSec. The older protocols should be avoided if possible. Still, it is always good that these options are included in your subscription. Most experts assume that the VPN industry will shift to the newer and more secure WireGuard protocol in the near future. As of March 2020, PIA has included WireGuard as a beta feature in all of their apps.
Servers and Server Locations
When you are searching for the best VPN, you will, of course, want a variety of options when choosing a good location for spoofing. More choices also mean that you will have a better chance of connecting to a server near your current location.
Private Internet Access offers a variety of locations with servers located in over 30 countries. This amount of servers is not wrong at all, but it is not nearly as many as some of the more prominent VPN companies. When considering some of the regional gaps, one notices that PIA only offers one server in Africa and only two servers to choose from in South and Central America. Still, some competitors choose to ignore these regions altogether so that it could be worse. When comparing PIA to another VPN such as ExpressVPN, which has servers in over 94 countries, it is hard to side with PIA.
In most cases, the total number of servers is not the best metric for comparing VPN services. VPNs are built to handle server loads and will speed up and slow down as they are needed. That being true, it is still worth noting the Private Internet Access has over 3,000 individual servers. The only other services that can beat this number are NordVPN and CyberGhost, which crack 5,000 each.
Some VPN services offer what are known as virtual servers. These virtual servers act as servers in a different country but might have a physical location somewhere else. While these servers’ outcomes remain unchanged, many users are concerned about their being processed physically. Not every country has laws that are conducive to privacy, after all. In the past, a PIA representative has stated that they do not actually utilize any virtual servers. However, according to a recent announcement, the company says that PIA will include servers with clearly marked virtual locations. Their goal is to provide virtual server locations where data cannot be safely processed physically.
One interesting recent occurrence took place when Hong Kong passed its new privacy laws. After these measures, Private Internet Access decided to remove all of their physical servers from the city. Instead of these physical servers, the company arranged to set up virtual servers outside of China to service the Hong Kong region still. Similar movements have taken place in other countries, including South Korea, Russia, and Brazil.
Your Privacy With Private Internet Access
All VPNs come with a certain amount of inherent risk. When your internet traffic is being routed through a VPN, that company technically has access to enormous insight about what you do online. They see the same information your ISP would know if you weren’t using a VPN. For many, that is the exact reason to use a VPN in the first place, so the company must be trustworthy in order to handle that information.
A representative of the Private Internet Access company went on record by stating that the company does not ever keep any user data logs and does not sell any of their data for profit.
Suppose you are looking for something a little easier to read. In that case, their Terms of Service documentation is a little easier to understand but lacks information about their product’s operation. Suppose PIA really wanted to cater to their customer’s peace of mind. In that case, they should be a little more transparent about the data that they collect and what exactly happens to that data.
It is clear that Private Internet Access does not appear to be directly profiting off their user’s data; there is some information being collected. According to a company representative, the process collects data usage, IP address, and username. As soon as you disconnect from the VPN service, that data is deleted forever.
While that policy seems to be relatively straightforward, other companies tend to collect less information and provide similar services.
The Private Internet Access company is headquartered in the US and operates under the jurisdiction of the US. Currently, the US does not mandate that any company is required to retain its customer information; however, PIA must respond to court orders and requests from the US government. This is much different than comparable companies such a NordVPN, which is based in Panama. They are not beholden to requests from traditional agencies.
In the annual transparency report issued by PIA, the company states that it has never provided any data in response to a court order, warrant or subpoena.
The customer-facing company Private Internet Access VPN is owned and operated by Private Internet Access Inc, which is owned by the notorious KAPE Technologies. When KAPE made this purchase, many users were skeptical due to KAPE’s former aggressive toolbar usage issues. However, nothing new has come to light in recent years, and KAPE has purchased CyberGhost VPN and Zenmate. PIA will continue to operate as a private entity, separate from the other properties.
The Private Internet Access company is yet to release any results of a third-party audit. Of course, audits are far from a guarantee that a company is following security measures; it could help put curious minds at ease about its operations. For instance, TunnelBear releases audit annually and has done so for the past three years. There was an independent audit done on OpenVPN, and the results were released to both developers and the public.
A PIA representative has not assured in their statement that Private Internet Access does not own the infrastructures of their servers. This means that these servers could potentially be open to an outside attack or third party access. Most VPNs don’t physically own every server, but they will hold some server infrastructure portion. Companies such as SurfShark and NordVPN are even upgrading their servers to make them diskless. Diskless technology is a security measure as it prevents authorities from seizing the physical assets.
Hands-On With Private Internet Access
We tested the Windows version of Private Internet Access and installed it quickly and effortlessly using Windows 10.
When installing the app, you will receive brand new login credentials via email. Customer service states that this is a step that is followed to make signing up anonymous. Still, it might be a little confusing for those installing a VPN for the very first time. Most other VPNs use activation codes or even assign users a random ID code that is used for the initial login.
In the past, it was well-known that PIA was a fully functioning VPN. Still, the user interface was less than intelligible. There were no noticeable clients, and the interface seemed complicated and unnecessary. Upon using the newer version, we were pleasantly surprised that PIA has adopted an app that is much friendlier and approachable. The app can still be entirely controlled from the system tray; however, it is more your style.
When you first start the app, you will see an oversized “connect” button. When you click here, you will be automatically connected to the nearest and best server available for your area. This functionality is great for the average user who does not want to mess with a bunch of controls just to turn the VPN on.
Suppose you click the location button just below. In that case, you will be able to choose a new location by either city or country, but you will not be able to select your exact server. This should be enough for most people, but some users are looking for more control. If you do want to use a region often, you can add it to the favorites list.
If you click on the area at the bottom of the app, it will extend the interface all the way to the top of your screen. Doing this will reveal a series of other host tiles that are useful for connecting to other countries quickly. It also shows your usage statistics, key settings, subscription status, toggle switches, and performance graphs. This fully immersive dashboard is quite helpful, and other VPN companies should take note of these features. The PIA interface makes it easy to interact, even with the custom features. This is a massive upgrade from the previous version.
One excellent feature of this VPN is the Snooze button. This can be programmed to disconnect the VPN and then reconnect after a certain amount of time has passed. This is a useful feature when you find yourself blocked by a specific website and need to disconnect from the VPN temporarily. You will be reconnected shortly without doing anything. That way, you won’t find yourself thoughtlessly browsing about, unprotected.
There is also an “additional settings” menu that goes into even greater detail. From this menu, you can make any necessary changes to your account, change your port forwarding settings, and even make some more obscure tweaks. Many users won’t need to bother with these settings. Still, experts who are confident in their abilities will be happy to find them here.
Another important setting is the light and dark mode. Experimenting with these modes is fun and quite impressive for a lacking functional app just a few years ago.
The only noticeable flaw with this app is that the interface is still stuck in place and the screen. It is impossible to make it pop up from the system tray. You can also not make it move around or interact with it like most other Windows apps available. If you click anywhere outside the app, the app will simply disappear. If you were to set the app “free,” so to speak, it loses its stylized rounded corners.
One of the biggest concerns when choosing a new VPN is that it might leak identifiable information to unwanted parties. This can happen either in the form of your IP address or even a DNS request. In all of the tests that we performed, we were able to verify that the IP is hidden from the ISP, and the usual DNS servers were circumvented when using the Private Internet Access VPN.
Private Internet Access and Netflix
These days, it is reasonably well known that many popular video streaming services have begun to block VPNs from accessing their content. This is mostly due to the fact that these services reach certain agreements about their license based on their regions. The most stringent of all services is Netflix. We tested the Netflix service with mixed results, and that is partially due to their aggressive campaign to block VPNs.
Depending on the server that we connected to, many servers were blocked. Private Internet Access does not offer a streaming-only server, so connecting to a service like Netflix can be tricky. When we tried to connect to several US servers, we were met with the sad notification that Netflix is detecting our VPN. If watching Netflix and other streaming services is a significant concern for you, you might consider looking into a few other VPN services.
Additionally, we found that other streaming services were problematic, as well. We had issues with Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO Max. That isn’t to say that we couldn’t get any of them working. Most of them were able to stream eventually; however, we had to spend a lot of time changing servers manually and retesting the connections. You are better off spending your money on a VPN that has a dedicated streaming server if you want to avoid these headaches later.
Beyond the VPN
Most VPN services provide features that usually offer up additional features or security, in order to attract and entice new customers. In that regard, Private Internet Access does offer up its own ad and tracker blocker that is called “MACE.” Unfortunately, this feature is not currently available on Android devices, as it does not comply with Google Playstore’s rules. However, suppose you really wish to have this additional feature on your Android device. In that case, it is relatively easy to sideload it directly from the PIA’s website. Of course, if you are sideloading anything, you should be warned that doing so comes with potential risks.
Speed and Performance
No matter what VPN service you choose to use, it will affect your browsing speeds somehow. In order to measure the level of impact that the Private Internet Access app had on our internet speeds, we tested using the Ookla Speed Test app.
Our series of testing found that the PIA app was very similar to all VPNs’ median speeds but never actually beat those speeds. In the first test, we found that the download speed decreased by 6.27 Mbps and the upload speed actually increased by 2.68 Mbps by connecting to the nearest server. It also produced a ping time of 70ms.
When we reran the test while connected to a US-only server, we had similar results. However, the download speeds were slightly better.
These results show that the fastest VPN around is still Hotspot Shield. However, the Private Internet Access VPN is not that far off from their median speeds. That means that these speeds are right about the middle of the pack. They won’t blow you out of the water with blazing speeds, but they are still generally fast enough for downloads, torrenting, and even some light gaming. Remember, the real value of a VPN is not in its speed, but the security and privacy they offer from within the app.
Private Internet Access on Other Platforms
In addition to the leading platforms of Windows and macOS, the Private Internet Access app is also available to be set up on other devices. While it is not as easy as downloading an app, manually setting up the device on a smartphone or a computer can be painful. Using the app that is provided by the VPN company can be much more comfortable. It will most likely save you a few headaches. Additionally, the app has more features than you would find by setting up the connection manually.
That being said, you do not have to use the standalone app if you are using it in your browser. Private Internet Access also offers browser extension plugins for Chrome and Firefox. These plugins are great for hiding your IP address that is related to your browsing activity. These plugging can also be used to access a variety of locations, all secured by using Squid HTTPS. When you are using these plugins, only your browser traffic will be routed through the VPN. You will not be affected if you have any connections outside of your browser. This is great if you just need to access a few websites without stopping your downloads, but in most cases, the full VPN app is preferred.
If you are looking for the best way to set up the VPN, you should consider setting it up over the router. This is especially true if you are using a streaming device such as the Apple TV or an Amazon Fire TV stick. At the moment, there are no individual apps available for these devices, and they either need to be configured manually or with a router connection.
With its upgraded and refined GUI, Private Internet Access finally allows users to experience the simplicity and ease of use that was missing for so long. However, while PIA was busily upgrading their interface, other services were not sitting idly by. More and more services have started offering various tools that are available at lower prices as well. That means that the PIA VPN app is in a crowded market full of tough competitors. With all of this competition, it is hard to stand out from the crowd.
The VPN itself is clearly quite effective at protecting their customer’s privacy; however, one of their most significant flaws is that they do not explain precisely how their technology works and how it is protecting them.
Additionally, during our tests, we found that it mostly only offers middle of the road speeds. It is not the slowest VPN out there, but it will not set any speed competition records. Despite the lack of blazing speeds, it does allow up to 10 connections at the same time.
When it comes to protecting customers’ privacy, it does the job quite well. It does also offer a lot of simplicity and extra features at a relatively cheap price. If you are simply looking for a middle of the line VPN that will keep you safe and get the job done, then Private Internet Access will work for you. Suppose you are looking for faster speeds with more compatibility with Netflix and other streaming services. In that case, you might want to keep looking as this VPN did have some trouble with streaming.
Overall, the Private Internet Access VPN offers excellent value and mediocre speeds. It will undoubtedly keep you safe, and the app is simple to use. Still, many more advanced users would be unhappy with this performance. Additionally, suppose PIA plans on attracting more tech minded customers. In that case, they should really consider being more open and transparent about their process and publish more data that will put users’ minds at ease.