Private Internet Access (PIA) is probably the most popular VPN on the market today.
Despite being one of the cheapest VPNs, is it good enough for serious use?
To make this review accurate, I subscribed to their cheapest plan and took a look at their logging policy, servers, cost, download/upload speed and app usability.
Overall, here’s how it ranked:
Ranked #9th out of 74 VPNs
- Speed test: 81Mbps out of 100Mbps
- Usability: 4/5
- Logging policy: No Logging
- Netflix: No
- Torrenting: Yes
- Cost: $2.91/mo and up on PrivateInternetAccess.com
PIA Pros +
1. Fast Download Speed (81 Mbps out of 100)
One of the most important factors of a VPN is their download speed. If you’re signing up with a slow (read: bad VPN), you’ll end up with ridiculously slow speed.
We’ve faced that several times, especially when I tested speed in StrongVPN (below 20 Mbps out of 100).
However, things with Private Internet Access look quite good actually. As always, to make our PIA review accurate, I went to speedtest.net and put the following locations to the test: US, EU, Asia, and the UK.
P.S. The location I used to track the speed was in the middle of Europe: Estonia.
US Server (New York)
- Ping: 118ms
- Download: 77.56 Mbps
- Upload: 36.75 Mbps
EU Server (Amsterdam)
- Ping: 41ms
- Download: 81.46 Mbps
- Upload: 40.30 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
- Ping: 283ms
- Download: 69.98 Mbps
- Upload: 13.04 Mbps
UK Server (London)
- Ping: 48ms
- Download: 75.67 Mbps
- Upload: 23.00 Mbps
In conclusion – PIA is pretty fast VPN. Not as fast as iPVanish or ExpressVPN, but surely an “OK” alternative as it’s cheaper.
Keep in mind, speed is an important factor and is vastly connected with the VPN software you’re using. Of course, there are some ways to speed up a VPN connection, but the main strength comes from the actual VPN servers.
2. PIA Claims No Logging
‘Logging’ is a practice used to monitor and record data points from your VPN activity.
For example, your internet service provider (ISP) will log which websites you access along with your personal information used to connect (like email or ISP). And they can actually sell that data.
Some VPN providers will log certain details, like when you log in or sign off, in order to monitor their usage to improve service.
PIA has a no logging policy that will not track or monitor traffic logs, or communication logs.
However, it does track some information, such as:
- Your email address
- Payment data
- Clients who opt to use the optional control panel will receive a temporary cookie
3. Solid Encryption & Great Features
In addition to important features, such as:
- Anonymous IP
- Ability to torrent
- 5 simultaneous connection
- Total servers: 3059
- Total countries: 28 (last verified on 1st of March, 2018)
PIA also has several different levels of encryption:
The default settings use 128-bit encryption on your data, which is good, but not the best. However, you can step up your data encryption to 256-bit, which is the industry standard, and will give you a very secure connection (it will slow everything down a bit, though).
You can also choose the level of encryption on both your data authentication and your handshake. Both of these help your computer and the server verify the authenticity of the connection and the data being transmitted. The default settings are for SHA1 and RSA-2048, a 2,048-bit encryption key. That’s very difficult to break.
You can go all the way up to RSA-4096, though, and double the size of the data authentication key with SHA256.
Again, I recommend using the maximum settings so you get the best security possible. But if you really need extra speed, you could consider using the default recommendation. And while the Risky Business setting might seem like a good idea if you need extra speed for torrenting or streaming, we’d really recommend against it.
There’s probably not anyone trying to break your VPN encryption… but why risk it?
4. Specialized in Torrenting
If you’re looking for a VPN that won’t restrict your torrenting, PIA is a solid choice. They don’t restrict or monitor any connections, and that includes peer-to-peer file sharing.
You can use any torrenting client you like to download whatever you want, secure in the knowledge that your account won’t be blocked or your connection throttled.
While Private Internet Access’s website doesn’t specifically say that the company supports torrenting, they do say that P2P is supported. So that’s something. But the VPN has developed a reputation for being torrent-friendly, so people recognize them as being a solid choice for file sharing.
5. One of The Oldest and Well-Known VPN Providers
In the VPN world, it means a lot to have a reputation. And Private Internet Access has one of the best reputations in the business. They’ve been around since 2010, and they’ve provided reliable service ever since. In late 2017, they won the award for Most Stable VPN, which means a lot.
They’ve also received multiple editor’s choice award, but we can never know if they were compensated by PIA or not.
The VPN shows up in a lot of “best of” lists, and there haven’t been any serious questions about their commitment to privacy (though they’re based in the US, which can be problematic; keep reading and we’ll discuss that momentarily).
Being in business for almost 20 years is definitely a sign of prestige in the VPN world. PIA’s reputation and longevity make it a very safe choice.
The company also supports many organizations that are making the internet a better place, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, Blender, Inkscape, Gnome, and the Software Freedom Conservancy.
PIA Cons –
1. No Live Chat, Tickets Only
Although PIA offers “24/7 North American” support.
They don’t actually have a live chat option.
I think that means their support personnel is located in North America. Seeing as the whole “24/7” thing means they should always be available (no matter where you’re located).
However, when I contacted them through a middle of the night, I got a response at next morning. Not so 24/7 anymore, huh?
On a positive side, they also provide a separate Twitter account dedicated to customer service. I took a look at that network to see how they interact with customers. The good news is that they will still try to provide long, detailed answers (despite Twitter’s condensed medium).
2. Does Not Work with Netflix
Unfortunately, PIA isn’t able to get around Netflix’s blocking. If you’re trying to watch US Netflix from abroad (or get shows from another country in the US), you’re not going to be able to. It’s possible that PIA will find a way around this in the future, but at the time of this writing, it’s just not working.
Some people have found success with specific servers, so you may want to bounce around a few of the US-based ones to see if you can get them to work for yourself.
If you need a VPN that bypasses Netflix restrictions, take a look at this comparison.
3. Located in The US
Private Internet Access is based in the United States, and that’s problematic for many people. The US has some of strictest, most privacy-invading surveillance laws in the developed world, and that applies to VPN providers. The government has been known to pressure VPNs to give up user data with secret warrants, and that worries privacy advocates.
Of course, the fact that PIA doesn’t keep logs means that they have very little to share with the authorities if they come knocking. But the fact is that they may not have a choice; if they have any data about you at all (such as whether you’re a customer or how long you’ve been one), they may be forced to hand it over.
Should that worry you? Maybe, and maybe not. There are rumors that the NSA has been able to break the encryption on some VPNs, which means the government could be snooping on your connection. If you’re using the maximum security recommendations, that’s less likely.
Because of the combination of surveillance laws and intelligence-sharing agreements in the US, I tend to avoid VPNs based there. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely necessary for everyone.
PIA Pricing, Plans & Facts
PIA has a single plan with tiered pricing based on the length you’d like to commit and prepay. That keeps things nice and simple. And you can also get a great deal if you’re ready to shell out a single year in advance.
- $3.33/mo ($39.95 per year)
- 2 years
- $2.91/mo ($69.95 per 2 years)
They offer a 7-day money back guarantee. So you can give the service a spin over the course of a few days. If you’re unhappy at all during those seven days, you can simply get your money back.
Interestingly, PIA accepts all kinds of different methods of payment. For starters, they’ll accept Bitcoin (which could also help you add another layer of privacy to the transaction).
But – and I’m not making this up – they also accept gift cards for popular retailers like Starbucks, Costco, Best Buy, Target, and more. So you know those random gifts your parents just bought you during the holidays? Now you just found a use for it.
Even better way to mask behind your identity?
- No logging: No activity logs, only payment and email information.
- Ease of the VPN software: Simple and smooth, installation file was over 60mb though.
- Upsells: No upsells.
- Instant access after payment: Yes.
- DNS leaks: Protection is built in (though you should always test it yourself).
- Jurisdiction: United States
- Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/L2TP, PPTP, Socks5 proxy.
- Kill-switch: Mixed reviews. Users can enable or disable it, and some have found that it doesn’t work as consistently as they like (I recommend testing it yourself).
Do I Recommend Private Internet Access?
Yes and No.
PIA offers excellent coverage in North America and Europe, with tons of servers centrally located. That coverage isn’t as great in other parts of the world, however, with only a few servers spread around the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and a single, lonely one in Brazil for South American users.
PIA has all major protocols available, along with state-of-the-art encryption methods. Their annual pricing is among the lowest in the industry. And they’ve got a seven-day money back guarantee if you’d like to try them out.
No live chat and company located in the US. A lot less privacy in a Five Eyes country.
If you don’t want to go with PIA VPN, you can also find more VPN Reviews here.
I’m recommending either using ExpressVPN or NordVPN. Both are safe, secure and fast.