PIA - Private Internet Access Review

PIA logo
  • Raiting: 9.5 / 10
  • Pricing (monthly): $9.95
  • Pricing (yearly): $39.95 (equivalent to $3.33 per month)
  • Pricing (three yearly): $79 (equivalent to $2.19 per month)
  • Simultaneous Connection: 10
  • Server Locations: 75+ Countries
  • Jurisdiction: United States of America
  • Can be used on:
  • Can unblock:

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a premium VPN service based in the US that focuses on being simple and easy to use for a target consumer market. Its primary selling features are its no-logging policy and claimed fast network speeds. In addition, it offers subscribers unlimited bandwidth using superfast servers, and the company claims never to throttle speeds. There are currently no data retention laws for services based in the US, unlike other regions such as Europe. Combined with the no-logging policy, this means that, in theory, user privacy should be guaranteed.

The VPN service is implemented using open-source protocols to provide transparency of the integrity of its service to users. Primarily the service can be configured to use OpenVPN or WireGuard, offering the latest and more secure protocols. The VPN service for iOS devices uses IPsec (IKEv2) by default. Subscriptions can be taken out monthly, annually, or on a two-year subscription. The latter offering the best value for money over the long term, currently including an additional two free months. The cost of the basic service compares favorably with other popular premium VPN service providers.

A nice feature is that one subscription covers the simultaneous use of up to ten different devices, making it ideal as a solution for the whole family.

The VPN apps support the most popular devices and platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. There are also browser extensions available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. The VPN apps can be configured quickly and easily, though they were found to offer the most secure operation possible by default. A good feature was the ability to set up devices to automatically use a VPN for all connections via insecure open WiFi connections and to disable the VPN for any connections using a secure WiFi connection. This feature offers automatic security protection for mobile devices when they need it and the best connection speed possible when this additional security is unnecessary.

The PIA VPN service includes an automatic Kill Switch to prevent any data leakage should the VPN connection drop out during use. The PIA service also uses its own DNS servers to avoid possible DNS leaks. These features provide users with high levels of privacy. Accessibility to streaming services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer are generally suitable for users looking for legitimate access to these services while maintaining browsing history privacy. The PIA VPN service terms of use do not permit the downloading and sharing of illegal material. Where streaming services apply preemptive blocks for VPN services, PIA operates servers that implement port forwarding to bypass such blocks if necessary.

Pros & Cons of Private Internet Access

  • The PIA VPN service is implemented using trusted open-source VPN protocols.
  • The subscription fee for the PIA VPN service covers the simultaneous use of up to ten different devices.
  • The PIA VPN subscription fee can be paid using anonymous payment methods.
  • The PIA VPN services support proxy servers (such as Shadowsocks and SOCKS5) for additional VPN routing obscuration and support torrenting.
  • The PIA VPN service can include a dedicated IP as an extra paid-for option.
  • The website claims that the service includes 24/7 live customer support. However, selecting the support option of the iOS app brings up a web page with a 404 ‘page not found’ error. Also, several help pages and support guides that come up in the results of searching on the PIA website return the same 404 ‘page not found’ error.
  • The website support options appear limited to a web form and an automated helpdesk popup.
  • The number of servers for countries other than the US is limited, and some geographic regions such as Africa and South America have very few servers to select.
Screen shot of the main app screen

Using Private Internet Access

The PIA VPN is straightforward to install and configure. The configuration settings were found to be set to the most secure options by default.

Applications are available for Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. For this review, the iOS app was installed on an iPad and evaluated.

The interface is minimalist, with an obvious on/off button that changes color with connectivity status and a clear indication of the connected VPN server.

In addition, the display includes a world map with a dot highlighting the geographical location of the linked server and shows its IP address.

Switching to a different server was straightforward. A quick-connect list of the last six distinct servers used makes it simple to swap frequently used locations.

Alternatively, pressing the world map brings up a list of all the available servers that can be sorted by name, latency, or favorites if the user has pre-selected a preferred list of locations.

While the service supports a global network, the focus is on the US. The application offers connections through servers located in 78 different countries, but there is only one connection option for most countries. For the US, there are 15 locations available; for the UK, there are 4. Once connected, the VPN connection is transparent to the user. In addition, the VPN service includes an automatic Kill Switch function if the VPN connection drops unexpectedly, blocking the internet connection to prevent a data leak.

Another exciting feature is the support for split tunneling that allows users to choose which applications connect via the VPN and which can bypass the VPN tunnel and connect directly to the ISP server. The network management options also include automatic configuration based on network connection types, such as Open WiFi, Secure WiFi, or mobile data. Network traffic can be encrypted using either AES-128 or AES-256, configurable by the user.

For both encryption strengths, the user can also select to use a Cipher Block Chaining (CBC) mode or the more secure Galois Counter Mode (CBM) of operation.

Handshaking can also be configured to use SHA96, SHA160, or SHA256.

A helpful feature is the inclusion of an Adblocker function that claims to also block trackers and malware by monitoring network requests at a DNS level and preventing requests being sent rather than simply blocking harmful content once received.

The PIA application will also support using an anonymous static IP address that can be purchased as an add-on to the product subscription for an additional fee.

Screen shot of the VPN connection settings screen

Payments Accepted by Private Internet Access

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Private Internet Access Speeds

Private Internet Access VPN Server Locations Download Upload
United Kingdon 173.79 Mbit 87.37 Mbit
Australia 240.41 Mbit 20.21 Mbit
China 340.28 Mbit 1.4 Mbit
South Africa 16.38 Mbit 35.44 Mbit
California, USA 316.32 Mbit 14.23 Mbit
New York, USA 147.4 Mbit 25.34 Mbit
Germany 79.82 Mbit 149.91 Mbit
Taiwan 167.48 Mbit 0.94 Mbit
Spain 82.95 Mbit 122.37 Mbit
Brazil 130.67 Mbit 30.3 Mbit

Logging Policy and Privacy of Private Internet Access

PIA states that it operates with a strict no-logging policy to ensure the privacy and anonymity of subscribers' internet usage. It implements this policy by configuring its systems to store user browsing and access information on a null device rather than a physical or virtual storage medium.

This mechanism effectively holds information on a device that doesn't exist and so that information can never be retrieved.

However, as PIA is headquartered in the US, it cannot be completely guaranteed that the company may not be legally required to monitor and record specific users activities for a Government agency or law enforcement organization. However, there is no evidence that this has ever previously occurred, reducing the chances that it is currently happening. It is important to note that PA does store subscriber account information that comprises an email address, associated payment information, details of the device that has been used to access the PIA service, and regional location information. Therefore, total anonymity can be achieved if the subscriber can provide a non-attributable email address and uses an anonymous payment method. Visitors to the website are presented with non-persistent cookies that manage the current session. In addition, cookies are used to store the device's geographic region that has a one-year expiration and Google Analytics cookies that have a two-year expiration. The use of these cookies is covered in the privacy policy for the website.

Supported Devices and Operating Systems by Private Internet Access


Windows

Linux

Apple

Android

Ubuntu

Apple-ios

Chrome

Firefox

Opera

Platforms that can be Unblocked by using Private Internet Access


Disney Plus

Apple TV

Netflix

Hulu

Sky Go

Amazon Prime Video

BBC
Screen shot of the page not found error for the iOS app support function

Verdict / Conclusion

PIA offers a relatively low-cost premium service that delivers impressive network speeds over stable connections through servers distributed around the world. In the testing undertaken for this review, the achieved network download speeds for servers worldwide were 90% to 95% of the baseline speed with the VPN disabled. This test included connections speeds for a device near London, England, connecting through servers in California, New York, Australia, and China back to a destination in London, England.

The PIA VPN service operates a no-logging policy. It retains limited subscriber information that, combined with the acceptance of anonymous payment methods, means that it is relatively straightforward to set up and operate an entirely anonymous VPN connection for users seeking absolute privacy.

The PIA VPN iOS application was simple to install and set up. The time from creating an account to establishing a VPN connection was measured in minutes. By default, the application was configured to use the most secure encryption options, and critical features like the kill switch were enabled. Applications that are secure out of the box are a refreshing change. In terms of configuration options and security features, the PIA VPN is impressive compared to its peers. Making changes is straightforward as long as you know what you're doing. The service is only let down by the support. On several occasions, a search for a help article resulted in either a page not found or a spinning 'waiting' icon that, after a few minutes, produced a blank page. Regarding accessing geo-locked content, the tests encountered an issue where the UK-only content provided by the BBC iPlayer was not accessible when using the 'UK London' server. Still, it was accessible using the 'UK London-Streaming' server. The result is that any UK residents that want to access such content while using a VPN to protect their privacy can still do so.