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Private Internet Access Review

Rank #4
Ryan Glenn portrait
Ryan Glenn | VPN Expert
Updated November 1, 2020

PIA has a lot to offer and one of the well known and affordable VPNs on the market. In this deep dive review, we will answer many questions from security, geoblocking, speed, streaming, and more.

What's in this Review?

Highlights
Pros and Cons
About
Privacy
Security
Server Locations
Streaming & Torrenting
Speed
Censorship
Ease of use
Pricing
Verdict

Highlights

Server Size
3,300+

Server Locations
47 Countries, 68 Locations

VPN protocol and Encryption
WireGuard, PPTP, OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec Protocols; AES-128, AES-256 bit Encryption

App Compatibility
Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Fire TV

Router Compatibility
Yes, installing the VPN on a compatible router is recommended to secure all devices without the need for downloading an app on each device or worrying about simultaneous device limitations. This is great for gaming consoles, smart TVs, and streaming devices.

Streaming
Unblocks popular streaming platforms including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, and more

Logging Policy
Strict Zero Logging Policy

Support
Live chat support

Pros
  • Strong miltary grade encryption (256-bit AES)
  • Blazing fast speeds
  • Variety of protocols
  • Good for streaming US Netflix, torrenitng, and gaming
  • P2P file sharing on all servers
  • VPN apps for range of platforms
  • Transparency reports and privacy focused
  • 30 day money back guarentee
Cons
  • Needs more server locations outside of Europe and the US
  • Live chat not 24/7
  • Unreliable for use in China
  • Based in the US part of the the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes

About Private Internet Access

In November 2019 Kape Technologies acquired Private Internet Access from London Trust Media, a company known for privacy tools releasing InBrowser.

The new ownership Kape Technologies has a very questionable past which is featured in the CyberGhost review. They also own CyberGhost and Windscribe VPN services. This is common practice within the VPN industry as it is one less competitor.

All three VPN services remain separate with different logging policies while offering it's own features. After the ownership switch PIA has released more ways to allow users to trust, by open sourcing their client applications so you can verify what you’re installing. By doing this users have reassurance that PIA does not have any hidden agendas bundled into their VPN applications. Also, PIA is open to more community audits coupled with the verified no logs policy discussed in the following section.

PIA releases their plans in this article:

Private Internet Access verifies privacy

Privacy

PIA is based in the US part of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes surveillance alliances. This is typically not a good sign because they vould be forced to hand over user information if they logged any of their consumers data. The good news is their logging policy is user friendly.

Logging policy

PIA does not log any information besides the standard account information that includes email address and payment type. They do not collect or log any traffic or use of its VPN services, meaning you can have the piece of mind knowing there will be no trace of logs or personally identifying information.

Here is what PIA does not collect:
  • Your IP address
  • Your DNS queries
  • Your browsing history
  • The web content you accessed
  • Your connection timestamps
  • Your disconnection timestamps
  • Your session duration
  • Your bandwidth usage

PIA has a superb history of not logging any personally identifying logs. In fact, PIA has been subpoenaed several times by government agencies but no logs of users were found.

"Private Internet Access embodies transparency as a key value toward building trust with our users. Every year, we receive multiple requests from governments to disclose information about the activity of our users. Part of that trust is reporting what governmental data requests have been received by our legal team. With this report, our users will have additional information on the type of requests we receive from governments and/or their agencies and how we handle these types of data requests."

Furthermore, PIA posts regular transparency reports. Transparency reports and verified no logs can offset the disadvantages of being part of the 14 eyes.

PIA is privacy focused:

The Russian Government has passed a new law that mandates that every provider must log all Russian internet traffic for up to a year […] Upon learning of the above, we immediately discontinued our Russian gateways and will no longer be doing business in the region.

Security and Encryption

How secure is Private internet access?

Private Internet Access uses AES 256-bitencryption algorithm to hide your data. It’s the same encryption standard adopted by the U.S. government and used by security experts worldwide to protect classified information.

AES-256, which has a key length of 256 bits, supports the largest bit size and is practically unbreakable by brute force based on current computing power, making it the strongest encryption standard.

256-bit keys means 2^256 or 1.1 x 10^77 possible combinations. That’s 115,​792,​089,​237,​316,​195,​423,​570,​985,​008,​687,​907,​853,​269,​984,​665,​640,​560,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000 combinations! A brute-force attack on a 256-bit keyspace is simply infeasible, even if all the world’s most powerful supercomputers ran for as long as the universe has existed so far, billions and billions of times over.

Protocols

Private Internet Access offers a variety of protocols OpenVPN UDP/TCP, WireGuard, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPSec to suit your needs. WireGuard is a newer protocol that shows promise with better speeds however it is still under development and has not yet established its viability. OpenVPN is recommended for the highest amount of security as it is the industry standard, however it is nice to see PIA offer a variety of protocols as they look to the future.

PIA DNS

PIA allows you to use their no-log DNS servers instead of your ISP resolving DNS requests. This is great as it ensure 100% protection from your ISP and third parties.

Kill Switch

PIA offers a kill switch and we recommend enabling this feature. The kill switch is an advanced security measure, which prevents your data from leaking to the web. If your VPN connection is ever interrupted, the kill switch will immediately stop traffic from entering or leaving your device. By halting all online activity, the kill switch keeps your personal information from being exposed to your internet service provider (ISP) or other prying eyes.

The kill switch is available for all platforms. The kill switch has three modes: auto, off, and always. Always mode prevents you from connecting to the internet before the VPN App loads. Always is available for Windows and macOS. We recommend Always mode for those platforms and recommend Auto for all other platforms.

Private Internet Access VPN kill switch

Mace(Ad and Malware blocker)

Mace is PIAs ad, trackers, and malware blocker. This helps block malicious websites, phishing scams, and flashy ads. If you ever been to a website with a ton of ads that slow down your browsing experience it can be a bit much so it is nice to have an ad blocker like Mace.

VPNs that have a malware blocker like PIA continuously update their database with any known websites that appear to be threats. New malware websties may slip through the cracks if the VPN is not yet aware of the new threat but at least it is worth the extra layer of protection. No VPN is perfect but an ad and malware blocker is a great step as many VPNs do not have this feature.

Server Locations

PIA offers 3,300++ servers, 47 countries in 64 locations. PIA only uses bare-metal servers for their VPN network for enhanced security and performance. Here is the breakdown for server locations:

  • 1821 servers, 19 locations in North America
  • 1306 servers, 35 locations in Europe
  • 83 servers, 8 locations in Asia
  • 79 servers, 4 locations in Oceana
  • 2 servers, 1 location in South America
  • 2 servers, 1 location in Africa

While they do have a lot of servers they do not have a lot of locations outside North America and Europe, we would like to see more in South America, Africa, and Australia. However if you are based in the US or Europe local speeds will be fast as traffic is spread out across a large number of servers decreasing congestion and improving performance. You can see the full server list by location.

Geoblocking, How well does it fare in China?

Finding a VPN in China is difficult, China has tough restrictions and government surveillance. Some VPN's are not powerful enough to bypass these restrictions and are blocked from accessing VPN sites and apps. In countries with advanced censorship infrastructure will run what is DPI (deep packet inspection) and will determine if packets belong to a VPN.

PIA is able to bypass censored countries like Russian, UAE, and Turkey but not able to consistently bypass The Great Firewall of China as they do not have obfuscation technology. PIA does offer Shadowsocks and SOCKS5 Proxy to help pass censorship but it is not effective or consistent enough as VPN proprietary obfuscation technologies.

If you are looking for a reliable VPN to work in China we recommend checking out our most reliable VPNs in China.

Streaming

PIA succesfully unblocks Netflix US and German libraries however other popular libraries UK and Australia were blocked. If you are looking for a VPN that unblocks more libraries check out our top picks for Netflix. We tested several other platforms and found PIA could not unblock Hulu or Disney+ however I was able to stream these platforms without a problem.

  • Amazon Prime Video
  • HBO
  • BBC iPlayer
Torrenting

PIA is great for torrenting as all their servers allow P2P filesharing. They will hide your P2P activity from your ISP and mask your IP address. The Kill Switch feature is nice to have the extra security. Make sure the kill switch is enabled in the VPN app. Due to PIA's fast speeds, unlimited bandwidth, no logs policy, and port forwarding make them a superior option for torrenting. The port forwarding feature redirects incoming connections to bypass any NAT firewall. This allows you to increase the number of torrenting peers you can communicate with which often improve your P2P download speeds.

Speed test results

Private Internet Access has blazing fast speeds, in fact it was able to land among the top tier fastest VPNs. We conducted a speed test, first by testing local speeds from New York and secondly international speeds. We tested 4 international server locations which are UK, Australia, Japan, and Canada.

We capped our speeds at 100 Mbps to compare VPN results and then by calculating a % loss between our baseline and resulting speeds to understand how much the VPN affected our speeds. The starting baseline speed with no VPN for upload is 94.38 Mbps and download is 85.74 Mbps .

One thing to note when I selected a server furthest away from my location the speed slightly decreases. The longer your traffic travels the slower your speeds will be, however, the best VPNs will mitigate the effects and ideally, you won't even notice the difference at all.

Server Location Download Upload Ping
US - New York 87.26 Mbps (7.54% loss) 77.69 Mbps (9.39% loss) 12 ms
UK - London 77.85 Mbps (17.51% loss) 36.95 Mbps (56.9% loss) 61 ms
AU - Sydney 24.68 Mbps (73.85% loss) 12.73 Mbps (85.15% loss) 341 ms
JP - Tokyo 48.79 Mbps (48.3% loss) 21.62 Mbps (74.78% loss) 167 ms
CA - Toronto 80.54 Mbps (14.66% loss) 73.83 Mbps (13.89% loss) 17 ms

Ease of Use and Support

PIA makes it very simple and easy to use across all platforms. It is very easy to use their interface which is consistently similar across platforms while the advanced features are easy to access.

Private Internet Access app interface
Split Tunneling

PIA has a split tunnel feature for all platforms which allows you to route some of your device or app traffic through the encrypted VPN tunnel while other traffic through your local IP without VPN protection. This is a good feature for apps or websites that are safe, that way you don't bottleneck your VPN traffic and slow down your speeds.

Browser extensions

They do offer browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera however we recommended using a full VPN rather than a browser extension in most cases.

There are also plenty of FAQs and installation guides & troubleshooting on their webiste for additional help. You can refer to their help page for additional resources including news and knowledgebase.

Customer Support

PIA does have a live chat support and email support however the chat is not 24 hours. You can fill out a contact form for additional help.

Pricing

PIA pricing is straight forward, they offer three different plans. Each plan includes all of the features and functionality they offer so there is no upselling. They are budget friendly and you can take advantage of a longer subscription for a lower monthly fee. They offer a 30-Day Money Back Guarantee.

Payment methods

Very friendly payment methods including anonymity

  • Credit/Debit card
  • Paypal
  • Amazon Pay
  • Bitcoin
  • Litecoin
  • Ethereum
  • Zcash
  • Beam
  • Bitpay
  • Mint

Verdict

8.5
Privacy & Security
Speed & Reliability
Streaming & Torrenting
Advanced Features
Usability & Support

PIA offers a lot of features and we trust their privacy no logs policy as they were able to back their claims up with real-life scenarios. We recommend this VPN to those looking for excellent privacy and security, fast local speeds, torrenting enthusiasts, and gamers. However, we don't recommend this VPN for users trying to bypass highly restricted censorship or for those who want to unblock Netflix libraries outside of the US and Germany.

Bottom Line

PIA has fast speeds, industry leading security, and verified transparency reports making it a great choice for many.
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