Private Internet Access Review
A great VPN that offers speed, customer service and a widespread server network for a reasonable price.
Last Updated: 20 Jul'17
When it comes to VPN services, Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most talked about providers online. Lifehacker surveyed its readers in April, asking for an opinion on the best VPN provider and PIA was the winner.
We’ll take an in-depth look at this affordable VPN service today and see for ourselves how it stacks up against the competition. PIA offers a dead simple client that is easy to use and provides access to over 3,193 servers in 25 countries.
While the client software is quite spartan, the minimalist design makes it easy for non-technical people to use, while still allowing technophiles access to the inner workings under the “advanced” tab. This makes PIA a great choice for grandmas and system admins alike.
- Solid speeds
- 3,193+ servers across the globe
- Clients for all major platforms
- Zero logging policy
- Built-in blocker for malware
- No trial version
- Doesn’t work with Netflix
- Can only select servers by region
PIA offers all the features most users could want in a VPN, including a killswitch to close programs if your VPN connection is interrupted. Don’t let the minimalist design fool you; simply clicking the “advanced” button reveals the other features available in the client.
Here’s a peek at some of PIA’s best features:
- Zero logging policy
- 3,193 servers in 24 countries
- Auto-login on boot
- Prevents DNS/IPv6 leaks
- No bandwidth throttling
- Allows P2P traffic, such as torrents
- Works on routers to protect all your devices
- Up to five separate connections at a time
- PIA’s VPN protects from malware and blocks ads
PIA is affordably priced, and the only downside is that it doesn’t offer a trial version for you to test drive the service before you buy it. It does, however, offer a seven-day money-back guarantee.
$ 6 95monthly
$ 35 946 months
$ 39 95yearly
To get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to sign up for a year of service. At $40 a year this puts PIA at less than half of the cost of other providers, like ExpressVPN (check out our ExpressVPN review for more info), without sacrificing in the way of features, privacy or security.
PIA keeps its pricing simple by offering one plan, so you don’t have to compare features or choose one plan over another. Every customer gets the same features for the same low price, starting at $3.33 a month when you pay annually.
You can also opt for a month-to-month plan for $6.95 per month, or sign up for six months at $5.99 per month. Since the annual plan is so heavily discounted, I suggest signing up for a year and using the VPN as much as possible during your first week.
This will give you a good idea of average speeds and what your experience will be like. If you decide PIA is not for you during that week, simply ask for your money back.
Paying for PIA is simple, and the service gives you plenty of options to choose from:
- Amazon Payments
- Major credit cards
You can use gift cards or bitcoin for added anonymity, and PIA provides a handy list of gift cards it accepts via PayGarden.
PIA is so simple to use even the least technically inclined person you know could sign up, install it and start using it right away. You could put it on your grandmother’s PC and never have to worry about removing malware from it again.
She’d likely never notice it’s there.
When you click the sign-up button you’re presented with a pop-up to select your payment method. Pick your payment method and fill out your email address to get your login credentials. Depending on how you pay, you’ll receive these credentials fairly quickly.
PIA has clients for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android and several flavors of Linux, as well as a Chrome extension, handy for any Chromebook users looking for some added privacy.
It’s fairly easy to setup your router with PIA as well, thanks to its excellent knowledgebase and support center. PIA offers pre-configured routers for sale, but if you’re the hands-on type, it has guides for the major router firmwares, including DD-WRT, Tomato and PfSense.
You’ll find documentation for all the features the service offers, explaining the killswitch, port forwarding, SOCKS proxies and the various settings you can tweak if you’d like to get your hands dirty and set things up manually.
Port forwarding, useful for torrent users that want to maximize their speeds, is incredibly easy on PIA. Most providers that offer port forwarding require you to submit a ticket and wait for a response, as it has to be manually assigned.
With PIA’s client software, you can click “advanced” and click “enable port forwarding.” Reconnect to one of the gateways listed here and hover your mouse over the PIA icon on your screen; a tooltip will appear after a few seconds, listing the port assigned to you. All you have to do after that is enter the port into whichever software you’re running.
Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t work with PIA.
It does work with the BBC iPlayer service, however.
The experience is equally simple on mobile devices, requiring a user to simply download and install the app and tap a few buttons granting permissions or notifications depending on whether you use iOS or Android. Just tap the big button on your screen and the VPN turns on, protecting you when you’re on the road or using public WiFi.
PIA’s software will run on any device you own, excluding any legacy hardware tucked away in your closet, like that old C-64 or TRS-80. Even then, with the availability of pre-configured routers or installing the VPN on your own router, it’s entirely possible to protect every Internet-enabled device in your house with a single VPN subscription.
Each account is limited to five devices, which may be enough for the majority of users, but there is no option to pay for additional devices. Some providers, such as VPN Unlimited (check out our VPN Unlimted review if you’d like to know more), charge a small fee for additional devices beyond the limits of the plan.
PIA doesn’t have this option, so you’re stuck with the limit unless you opt for installing the VPN on your router. Five devices is plenty for most subscribers, perhaps, but it’s surprising the service doesn’t offer customers the option to pay for extra devices.
No matter where you are, PIA has a server nearby; with 3,193 servers in 24+ countries, it’s hard not to. The PIA servers can handle quite the load, and you can see the server capacity as well as check speeds to your location with this handy tool on their website.
Here’s the results of my speed test from PIA’s Chicago server:
PIA has 1,682 servers in ten locations throughout the United States alone, some with 200Gbit+ capacity. Users are often worried about losing speed when they connect to a VPN, and while it’s true that VPN protocols result in a little lost speed due to overhead, I didn’t notice much of a slowdown when using PIA.
Solid providers like PIA have enough servers and bandwidth to spare, so while speeds might be slightly lower with the VPN connected, the difference in speed is usually negligible especially when you consider the privacy and anonymity gained.
The nearest VPN servers to my location are in Chicago, and Comcast provides my home Internet. I used my laptop during these tests and usually averaged 30-40Mbps, but the connection was slower than normal, most likely due to heavy storms or network congestion.
Without the VPN connected, I was hitting around 14.5Mbps on average.
My first test was from the U.S.-EAST server, running out of Chicago. As you can see from the screenshot, my speeds were barely affected, dropping only 2Mbps or so.
This second test was from PIA’s Toronto server, again showing a minimal loss of speed.
This last test was using the London server, and I was a bit surprised at the speeds. As you can tell from the screenshot, my ping was quite high at 191ms. A trans-Atlantic VPN connection may not be great for gaming but there was still only a small drop in speed.
Being a torrent user myself, I need a VPN provider that both allows P2P traffic and doesn’t slow my connection down or throttle my speeds. I tried the Ubuntu 17.04 torrent app and was quite surprised at the speeds, as they were higher than my initial tests.
My verdict: PIA has plenty of servers spread across the globe, plus the network and bandwidth to keep up with the demands of its users.
|VPN Turned OFF:||14.59||11.58
PIA is owned by London Trust Media, a privately held company based in the U.S.
While some privacy-conscious individuals do not trust U.S.-based companies, thanks to what happened to Lavabit, the truth is other countries often have similar laws that forbid providers from informing customers when presented with a court order for wiretapping or handing over user data.
One of the company’s two founders, Andrew Lee, gave an interview to Ars Technica to clear up some of the concern about the company and its policies. In the interview, Lee made it quite clear that the company takes a strong stance on privacy and would shut down before it gave up its users:
“We do not believe that we will be put in this position. We feel that the government will not risk creating any more PR disasters like those created from Lavabit and Silent Circle. This is especially true since we have already publicly stated what we would do on our blog if we were to be put into this position along with the fact that we are orders of magnitude larger than Lavabit and Silent Circle.”
There are plenty of VPN services that claim a zero-logging policy, but not many have gone to court and had to prove this claim. PIA was involved in a court case in 2016, where the FBI demanded information on a suspect and subpoenaed London Trust Media for logs.
According the FBI complaint, “a subpoena was sent to London Trust Media and the only information they could provide is that the cluster of IP addresses being used was from the east coast of the United States.”
The suspect was Preston McWaters, 25, Florida, arrested for sending in several bomb threats. The FBI had tracked Facebook, Twitter and Tracfone activity to an IP address owned by London Trust Media. Unfortunately for the FBI, PIA could not hand over any useful information because the company simply does not keep logs.
PIA cares about its users’ privacy and takes a strong stance on related issues, like net neutrality. It took out a full page ad out in the New York Times to help raise awareness about the issue and gain further support for Net Neutrality efforts.
Its software reflects a strong stance on privacy and security by including a killswitch and implementing strong, proven cryptographic techniques. The default is AES-128 but for maximum protection it offers AES-256. On the PIA website, you’ll find a nice breakdown of the encryption offered as well as suggestions for speed versus maximum privacy.
PIA also works in China, an often difficult task given the Chinese government tries to block most VPNs. It does require some manual setup, but the service provides a handy guide to walk you through the process (we also have five other best VPN services for China if you ever find yourself in the Middle Kingdom).
Overall, PIA is one of the best VPN providers when it comes to privacy and security. It has proven it doesn’t keep logs and requires minimal information from customers, and the collective actions of the company have demonstrated a commitment to a free and open Internet as well as user privacy, security and anonymity.
I sent in a question via PIA’s ticketing system, asking if there was any workaround for watching Netflix, but I haven’t received a response (yet). At the time I submitted the ticket, there was a banner notification at the top of the screen stating there was an unusually high volume of tickets and there could be a significant wait.
I don’t believe this is typical of the company, and browsing the forums will show you mostly happy customers and a helpful staff. However, several press inquiries sent to through the support system by the Cloudwards.net editorial staff have as yet gone unanswered, so if your needs are PR-related, settle in for a long wait.
PIA has a good reputation for a reason: the service works exactly as it should and the company means exactly what it says. It’s no wonder Lifehacker users voted them to the top of their list. My experience with PIA was excellent, with the exception of an overworked customer service department.
The client software is simple to use and more advanced features are a click away. The vast number of servers ensures I can connect to a nearby VPN server wherever I’m at in the world, and my connection speeds won’t slow to a crawl.
PIA keeps zero logs and accepts payment methods that allow users to remain anonymous. PIA’s leadership are strong proponents of Net Neutrality and support free software organizations like GNOME and Freenode. PIA are even sponsors of Earth Day: for each new server installed, a tree gets planted, which is not something many companies can claim.
Overall, PIA is a great company providing a great service. A year’s subscription is only $3.33 per month and you can rest assured that no logs are kept and your money goes into supporting a free and open Internet, for everyone.
We hope you enjoyed this review; feel free to comment below, as well as share this post on social media.