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Private Internet Access Review

Rob Mardisalu

Rob Mardisalu

PIA is well-known VPN service, but how does it stack up against other popular VPN services? In order to find out, I decided to purchase their monthly plan and tried them out…

Private Internet Access is a U.S.-based company that offers users instant activation of its Virtual Private Network (VPN) services.

Users can expect major features such as Gigabit speeds for both uploads and downloads, as well as the ability to run 10 separate, yet simultaneous connections to global servers.

In this Private Internet Access review, I’ll cover why this service is considered one of the best VPNs on the market in 2020.

Despite this lion’s share of the market, it may not be the VPN of choice for Netflix-only entertainment users.

PIAVPN Overview

OVERALL RANK: #10 out of 78 VPNs
USABILITY: 4/5
LOG FILES: No Logging Policy
LOCATIONS: 32 countries, 3341 servers
SUPPORT: Limited “Live Chat”
TORRENTING:  Torrenting Allowed
NETFLIX: No
ENCRYPTION/PROTOCOL: 128-bit AES (default), OpenVPN
COST: $3.33/mo and up 
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.privateinternetaccess.com

Private Internet Access Pros

1. Strong Customer Support That’s Immediate

Right off the top, PIA has a formidable customer support resource page.

Their section of Knowledge Base articles, troubleshooting FAQ lists, and how-to guides provided me with a depth and breadth of industry support to help tackle a majority of the questions and issues I encountered. Prospective and free users have full access to this section of resources. However, only paying customers receive access to Live Chat functionality from support agents.

Without paying for a subscription, the Live Chat bubble only worked when I opened the site in Incognito Mode, and even then, the system couldn’t connect me to an agent after five minutes of waiting, and instead asked if I wanted to submit a ticket.

PIA’s live chat support could easily be expanded to include prospective clients, as most major eCommerce offer this service for both sides of the sale. How do free VPN users get access to support?

PIA customer support depends on the situation. If you are a client, you can access it with no issues, but if you’re a prospective client, then it’s another story.

 

 

2. Speed Remains Strong Behind VPN (Especially in the US)

One of the pillars of a quality VPN service is the speed of Internet connection for both uploads and downloads. PIA definitely delivers on both fronts, having passed multiple speed tests with solid numbers.

Typically, 10 Mbps or higher is a benchmark for excellent upload speeds, and a 100 Mbps download is widely considered a fast Internet speed.

Before I started the speed test, I used my ISP without the VPN as a baseline to test the bandwidth. Here’s that result:

  • Speed Test: 194.53 down / 11.94 up

I then tested in the following jurisdictions:

  • U.S. East – New York, NY – 119.04 down / 9.24 up
  • U.S. South – Dallas, TX – 108.09 down / 9.24 up
  • Canada – Toronto, Canada – 88.8 down / 9.27 up
  • UK Southampton – London, UK – 75.3 down / 9.23 up
  • Japan – Tsukuba, Japan – 59.55 down / 9.23 up

As seen here, the highest speeds were recorded from the U.S. Upload speeds remained consistent across regions, while download speeds varied quite a bit in areas outside North America, dropping significantly in Japan.

3. Usability: Easy to Find Everything in Clean Interface

The interface throughout the app itself is very easy to download, to follow instructions on each screen during the setup, and to use.

Installation

One-click Installation: Simply executing the downloaded file begins the installation of the VPN.

Start Using Right Away: Once installed, the login screen appears automatically. Alternatively, you can take a quick tour of the app before you begin to use it.

First Glance

Once logged in, the app pops up as a clean, small window with simple instructions to turn on the VPN and to select a server.

Clicking the right arrow next to the current server will show the available server list. Servers are cleanly organized with their corresponding latency shown to the right.

In-App Features

Clicking on the bottom arrow reveals the full interface of the app. This includes features such as Quick Connect by country, the Performance graph and usage details, Quick Settings such as Mace and Port Forwarding, current subscription details, and a VPN Snooze feature.

VPN Snooze

Snooze temporarily disconnects the VPN and automatically reconnects when the timer elapses after a specified period. This is helpful when you are away from your device for a short time.

Settings

Surprisingly enough, clicking on Settings froze the app and forced me to quit. Upon re-opening the app, I was notified that my VPN connection was preserved.

This time, I was able to click Settings, which opened a new window with a multitude of options.

Settings – General

Users can make basic changes to the theme, style, appearance, language, notifications, and whether to command the app to launch and connect upon system startup.

Settings – Account

Here’s where you’re shown account details such as username and subscription details. From this window, you are able to manage your account, switch accounts, or log out.

Settings – Privacy

This is where the Kill Switch button lives, along with the Mace feature, which blocks any domains being used for ads, trackers, and malware.

Settings – Network

From this screen, I can configure DNS, request port forwarding, and allow LAN traffic. In addition, I have the option to use a beta feature labeled “App Exclusions”, which basically whitelists apps that users can manually add to bypass the VPN and connect directly to the Internet.

Settings – Connection

PIA utilizes OpenVPN, an open source industry standard, which provides a number of options for a secure VPN tunnel. PIA provides a few configurations on their site that match the purpose you need for your online activity. These configurations range from Default protection to Maximum protection to All Speed No Safety.

Your Connection Type and Data Encryption can also be configured from this screen.

Settings – Proxy

This includes the Shadowsocks and SOCKS5 Proxy, which is known for TOR and torrenting use.

Settings – Help

The Support Portal link is located here, as well as a few general maintenance features such as reinstalling the network adapter, split tunnel filter, and uninstalling the VPN.

4. Lots of Servers Available in Many Countries Across the World

As of February 2020, PIA boasts over 3,300 proxy and VPN servers in over 50 locations across the globe. Their goals are to keep expanding these numbers, so they’re always growing to provide a better connection for users.

With such robust coverage globally, PIA is able to provide reliable global coverage to over 30 countries. PIA did recently announce that they lost their India server provider in December 2019; however, they are currently searching for a suitable partner to get their India network up and running again.

5. No Logging Policy Ensures Heightened Security Level

A VPN’s logging policy states what types of activities the application will track. A good policy will only track the types of actions that need to be logged in order to trace potential fraud, inappropriate use, etc., but does not track the global, online activity of its users.

PIA recently responded to this question from a user and added it to their FAQs:

They go on to state that, while not tracking things make solving real-time issues more difficult, ensuring privacy for their users is the core of how they provide their service.

If you use PIA, you can be confident knowing that you are free to use the network as you need without fear of being tracked and monitored.

6. Up to 10 Simultaneous Connections Are Allowed

One of the nice-to-have features of PIA is the ability to maintain 10 simultaneous connections on a single subscription at any time. These connections are accessible across a mixture of devices including routers, smartphones, laptops, and more.

This option is especially convenient for families that want shared data protection across multiple devices.

7. The Kill Switch Works Well

From time to time, Internet connections time out, and this timeout period leaves your IP address vulnerable to tracking activities. PIA’s app allows users to set up a fail safe to ensure they remain private and anonymous while online.

I tested this feature by setting the kill switch to “Always”.

Disabling the connection on the VPN triggered the kill switch and shut off my Internet connection. Switching between servers also disabled my connection in the interim.

This easy to find and easy to use kill switch feature provides you with the confidence of knowing the app will automatically keep your connection safe.

8. Leak Tests Are All Solid With…No Leaks

PIA utilizes software that prevents DNS servers from sending any unencrypted queries or requests outside the secure VPN, in order to protect your IPSec (IP security) for all online activity and privacy.

I performed five leak tests and one virus check, with every test showing no leaks or viruses.

IPLeak.net Test – No Leak

Perfect-Privacy.com DNS Leak Test – No Leak

Perfect-Privacy.com IP Leak – No Leak

BrowserLeaks WebRTC Leak Test – No Leak

IPX.ac – No Leak

VirusTotal.com Report: No viruses found.

9. TOR Network and P2P/Torrenting Is Possible, but They Don’t Provide Support to Get You Started

TOR Network

With PIA, users can definitely access the TOR network, although the app prioritizes privacy over speed when using both services together.

While their support can’t offer direct assistance (due to unsupported third-party software and devices), I did find this helpful article on how to access and use the TOR network with their VPN. It’s important to remember to launch the PIA VPN first before running the TOR browser.

P2P/Torrenting

Unlike other VPNs, PIA does not offer or provide any user guides or documentation regarding torrenting, which was confirmed by their support team via live chat.

With the default settings turned on for the desktop application, torrenting/P2P works well and can be configured for different torrenting clients that are using their SOCKS5 Proxy, etc. There is just no transparency at this time.

Private Internet Access Cons

1. Netflix Is a Total Lost Cause

Overall, it appears that Netflix will not work on PIA. Of my tests, 0 out of the 9 servers tested worked. PIA’s website states that, due to geo-restrictions on certain creative and entertainment content, they are unable to provide Netflix access to PIA users. No word from the company if they plan to unblock Netflix content any time soon.

This VPN won’t even allow access to the Netflix site to test streaming on some servers.

UNITED STATES

  • US EastNo: Secure Connection Failed/Site Can’t Be Reached
  • US New York CityNo: Secure Connection Failed/Site Can’t Be Reached
  • US AtlantaNo: Secure Connection Failed/Site Can’t Be Reached
  • US TexasNo: Secure Connection Failed/Site Can’t Be Reached
  • US Silicon ValleyNo: Secure Connection Failed/Site Can’t Be Reached

CANADA

  • CA TorontoNo: Secure Connection Failed/Site Can’t Be Reached

UK

  • UK SouthamptonNo: Secure Connection Failed/Site Can’t Be Reached

EU

Finally, I was able to access the Netflix site using an EU server. Unfortunately, I could not stream content.

  • DE FrankfurtNo: Proxy detected

Asia

  • Hong KongNo: Proxy detected

2. The Company Is Located in the USA (but PIA Isn’t Concerned About Its Jurisdiction)

Having headquarters in Denver, Colorado, U.S., is optimal for PIA as a VPN provider, as the U.S. is one of the few countries without a mandatory policy for data retention, unlike the EU.

The U.S. is a 14-Eyes country (one of the original 5 Eyes countries), which enables it to legally share certain data and intelligence with other countries, but not to track, collect, and share data about its own citizens. This feature could compromise the anonymity of Private Internet Access VPN users, as online activities and information could be at the mercy of being tracked by other countries aside from your own.

PIA assures users, however, that it’s not concerned about this fact, however. They state that they don’t keep logs or identifying information about their users that could be collected. They even offer court case documentation to prove their operations do not allow for 14-Eyes countries to access PIA users’ data.

3. Only OpenVPN Protocol Is Supported

Looking into the protocols used for the desktop application I’m using (which is Windows 10), I decided to test the customer support to receive an answer. The desktop application only uses the OpenVPN protocol. Other full VPN protocols are not yet supported for the desktop application.

Pricing and Payment Methods

Private Internet Access accepts payments via PayPal, Bitcoin, Pay Garden, Amazon payments, and all major credit cards. They also accept many major brand gift cards to redeem for anonymous payments, as well as their own PIA gift card.

Prices start as low as $3.33 USD per month with an annual subscription, for a total of $39.95 per year (normally $119.40 before the discount). If you choose to go month-to-month, services will run you a reasonable $9.95 per month.

First-time buyers can also take advantage of their risk-free, 7-day, money-back guarantee policy.

If you’re unhappy with the service, you’ll have to submit a support ticket to request a refund. In addition, PIA only offers a refund within the first 7 days from the last payment made. After that, users are not eligible for a refund (full details can be found in their Terms of Service).

Conclusion

Private Internet Access offers users a great tool for online privacy for a great price. Major selling features include having up to 10 devices simultaneously connected to the VPN, a strict no-logging policy to protect online privacy, clean and simply usability throughout the interface, high upload and download speeds, a functional kill switch, and a high volume of global servers in over 30 countries.

The interoperability with TOR networks is also a nice-to-have feature.

While PIA claims to have 24/7/365 customer support, their live chat feature still needs some work to be able to access the support you need. For non-users as of now, there is no live customer support available.

The two major drawbacks are the lack of Netflix connectivity, which may leave some users frustrated for entertainment access if they only subscribe to Netflix’s streaming services, and the fact that while the company is based in the U.S., there may be concerns about just how much users’ information is truly private, when considered in relation to the 14-Eyes countries.

If you’re seeking a solid VPN service, PIA is a great app that offers high speed and privacy at a fantastic price point.