Private Internet Access Review 2020
Private Internet Access is a US-based VPN service available at $3.33/mo price. It has 3,335+ servers in 30 countries worldwide suitable for torrenting. PIA has received 3.6 stars rating overall.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a US-based VPN provider delivering its services through 3,335 servers in 30 countries. PIA VPN offers dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android as well as browser extensions.
However, the testing performed for this Private Internet Access Review revealed that provider lacks the ability to unblock popular streaming channels like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video.
It is a moderately affordable VPN that offers 10 simultaneous connections and 7-day money-back guarantee for $3.33/month.
Based on the above-described attributes, I recommend PIA VPN as it offers a massive server network like PureVPN and ExpressVPN, but it has some flaws that makes it a cut below the aforementioned VPN brands.
My Rating Criteria
I have tested Private Internet Access through my nine (9) steps rating criteria. These steps are:
- Jurisdiction – Where is PIA VPN based?
- Security – Is Private Internet Access secure?
- Leaks – Does PIA VPN leak IP, DNS, and WebRTC?
- Servers – Does Private Internet Access work in China?
- Speed – How fast is PIA VPN?
- Streaming – Does Private Internet Access work with Netflix?
- Compatibility – How many devices does PIA VPN support?
- Pricing – How much is Private Internet Access?
- Trustworthiness – Trustpilot Ratings, Reddit Reviews & Support
Jurisdiction – Where is PIA VPN based?
Unfortunately, PIA VPN hails from the US. This is a bad thing because the country has engaged in some of the most privacy-invasive surveillance programs in the world.
Even though the USA has no law that requires VPNs to maintain activity logs of their users, laws have never stopped agencies like the NSA to casually violate privacy of American citizen. Moreover, the USA is a key member of the intelligence-gathering group known as Five Eyes.
Therefore, a US-based VPN will always have a hard time convincing its users of guaranteed privacy.
Security – Is Private Internet Access secure?
Private Internet Access is a very secure VPN service and includes multiple tunneling protocols and strong encryption standards.
I studied the security features of this VPN and learned that the provider offers three VPN tunneling protocols including one proxy protocol:
- PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol)
- L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol)
- SOCKS5 Proxy Tunnel
SOCKS5 proxy is an interesting addition. This protocol can be used for streaming purpose as it provides good speed but reduced security as compared to OpenVPN.
Along with these protocols, PIA offers military-grade 256-bit encryption. This encryption level is extremely strong and rules out the possibility of brute-force type attacks.
Furthermore, it is equipped with SHA-1 or SHA-256 encryption. For handshakes and authentication, it uses RSA-2048 public key encryption, which itself is also quite strong.
Considering the encryption standards and VPN protocols used, PIA is quite safe to use and can be trusted to keep you secure from hackers and cybercriminals on the web.
Does Private Internet Access keep logs?
PIA VPN follows a no-logging policy in true letter and spirit.
Every VPN promises to store no logs at all. Yet, not all deliver on that promise. In fact, on the contrary, many VPNs have handed over customer data to third parties.
PIA expressly mentions that they keep no logs of user activities performed while using their VPN service. Only the following user-related logs are collected by PIA:
This is the bare minimum of information that any provider must collect in order to deliver their service to the users. Therefore, despite the fact that PIA is based in the US, it is still capable of offering a good level of privacy to users since it doesn’t retain any personally identifiable information of users.
PIA VPN Advanced Security Features
Apart from the core encryption and tunneling protocols, PIA also offers some additional features for users that need to turn their security even tighter from accidental lapses.
Here are some of PIA’s key additional features:
PIA VPN Kill Switch
The PIA VPN Kill Switch disconnects your internet if you lose your VPN connection for one reason or the other. This stops your actual IP address from getting exposed to your local ISP or the site you are visiting.
I’d recommend users to keep the Kill Switch enabled at all times, especially if you’re performing sensitive tasks like downloading torrents in a country with strict laws against online piracy. The Kill Switch will ensure that your real identity remains hidden even in case of sudden connection interruptions.
What makes PIA a standout VPN service from its competitors is its encrypted Wi-Fi feature. When you use Private Internet Access on your Wi-Fi, it protects the device through WPA protocol first. Therefore, you have to provide an authentication key before using the VPN on Wi-Fi devices, which makes your connection sessions more secure.
PIA SOCKS5 Proxy
PIA SOCKS5 proxy offers an additional layer of authentication as it only allows authorized users when it comes to accessing the servers. In addition, it provides an appreciable connection speed as compared to other protocols.
This makes SOCKS5 good for purposes such as downloading and streaming. The popular usage of the protocol involves downloading torrents because it usually results in faster speeds. However, it must be remembered that if you’re in a country with strict laws against torrenting, the wiser decision would be to stick to more secure protocols like OpenVPN even if it results in slightly slower speeds. This is because SOCKS5 has weaker security as compared to other VPN protocols.
Private Internet Access Block Ads & Malware
Private Internet Access has a propriety ad and malware blocking technology called MACE. The service blocks pesky ad-trackers that trace you online, compromising your privacy. This is an excellent additional feature to have alongside the core VPN protection functionalities.
PIA VPN Port Forwarding
PIA VPN also offers port forwarding capability for no additional costs. Port forwarding basically allows specific applications on your device/computer to communicate over dedicated ports. This essentially limits access of certain parts of a network to a given application, such as gaming.
Many gaming servers can only be accessed through certain ports. Therefore, if you’re a gamer that needs port forwarding functionality on a VPN, PIA is a very good choice.
Handshake Naming System (HNS)
The US-based VPN service has added another feather in its cap by adding “Handshake Naming System” technology in its armory. Hence, you can change the selected Name Server from PIA DNS (Domain Name System) servers to any Handshake Name System (HNS) servers if you are using Mac, Linux or Windows devices.
Once you have changed the settings, you can surf the web securely and anonymously from anywhere. Here is how you can do to enable HNS in your PIA settings:
- From your Private Internet Access settings window, you should right click the PIA system tray icon
- You must left click on settings, the settings window will popup on the screen
- Go to the Network tab, change PIA “DNS” to “Handshake” from the drop down menu
- Connect to PIA server to enforce the name server change effectively
Leaks – Does PIA VPN leak IP, DNS, and WebRTC?
PIA VPN doesn’t leak your IP, DNS and WebRTC information. In order to test for leaks, I used ipleak.net and found the VPN totally free of any leaks.
Servers – Does Private Internet Access work in China?
PIA VPN’s network consists of 3,335+ servers in 30 countries. All the servers are physical, which ensures good stability and precludes server overcrowding.
There are few providers with a network as large as PIA’s and that is one of the USPs of this VPN. The VPN servers along with the geographic location of their presence allow users to access a broad range of geo-restricted content.
Currently, the VPN has its servers located in 30 countries which include but are not limited to: U.S, Canada, U.K, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Germany, Romania, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and Hong Kong and others.
Although PIA covers a good amount of key locations in its network, it is smaller as compared to the likes of NordVPN and PureVPN. Nonetheless, since most of the servers are in locations where online censorship and regulation aren’t big problems, it’s unlikely users will feel the need to have access to a larger pool of locations in PIA’s network.
Does PIA Work In China?
Unfortunately, PIA VPN does not work in China. The Great Firewall of China uses extremely strong filtering technologies that block VPN traffic. As such, most VPN services today are unable to work properly within China and PIA is no different.
Is PIA VPN good for torrenting?
Yes, PIA is a good VPN for torrenting. All PIA servers support torrenting and p2p activities. However, the provider actually reroutes your data packets to those servers where torrenting can be safely done, such as Switzerland and Netherlands.
Therefore, you’ll get better performance if you directly connect to these servers rather than hopping through multiple locations to circle back to Switzerland or Netherlands.
Speed – How fast is PIA VPN?
PIA VPN delivers average connection speeds.
To measure how well PIA performs, I ran speed tests on 5 different servers. This is how my PIA VPN speed test results went:
Before connecting to the VPN, this was the speed I was getting on my Windows PC:
After this, I examined the speed of Private Internet Access UK server. The snapshot given below portrays the PIA speed test results for the UK:
Ping has increased from 4 to 122 ms – which is a cause of concern. Download speed however was affected as it dropped from 22.60 Mbps to 18.46 Mbps. The good news is that upload speed wasn’t deteriorated much (30.34 Mbps – before connecting a VPN, 25.91 Mbps – after connecting a VPN).
Overall, in my test, this proved to be the fastest PIA server.
After testing the PIA VPN UK servers, I tested the speed on a Switzerland server. The snapshot given below reveals the results of speed test after connecting to the Switzerland server:
Ping enhanced a little bit more and the download speed was affected as well. However, upload speed improved as compared to the results extracted while being connected to a UK server.
I tested the VPN’s France server as well with the following results:
The ping rose to 311 ms here. Download speed after connecting a VPN was 11.62 Mbps and upload speed was 5.64 Mbps.
Finally, I tested the Netherlands server and this one gave the worst results so far:
The ping was 144 ms, download speed was 6.26 Mbps and upload speed was 24.80 Mbps.
The results derived specifically for this PIA VPN review show that the performance of this VPN is quite average.
It should be remembered that VPN speeds are highly subjective and dependent on a myriad of factors including your base internet speed, ISP, proximity to the chosen server, the overall load on a server and more. Therefore, these speed tests do not represent the performance of PIA for every use case.
If you’re looking for a VPN that is specifically known for fast speed, see this list of fastest VPN services.
Streaming – Does Private Internet Access work with Netflix?
PIA VPN does not unblock US Netflix media library. In fact, none of the servers that we tried were able to work with Netflix using PIA. Although PIA was one of the VPNs that used to work quite well for people that needed to access US Netflix content from abroad, the increasing effectiveness of Netflix’s VPN detection technology made PIA powerless.
So, if you try to access Netflix with PIA running in the background, expect to see an error message like this:
Other Streaming Services
PIA VPN does work with some VPN streaming services such as Hulu, Sky Go, and CBS. The geo-restriction firewalls on these websites are weaker as compared to those employed by Netflix and BBC iPlayer. This is why PIA has a good success rate when it comes to unblocking Hulu, CBS etc. but not in the case of US Netflix and others.
Compatibility – How many devices does PIA VPN support?
PIA VPN is compatible with all common operating systems and devices. You get dedicated apps for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, and iOS as well as browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
PIA VPN for Windows
PIA VPN has a very simple app for Windows whose natural habitat is in the taskbar. The app has an appealing visual design and also comes in both Light and Dark versions, which is pretty cool. You can choose your preferred server location to connect to from the home screen. In fact, you can do the connecting and disconnecting by right-clicking PIA icon on the taskbar without even needing to open the full interface of the app. I think that’s pretty convenient.
You can configure some settings such as VPN protocols, encryption levels, ad-blocker, and Kill Switch from the settings tab. Connecting to a server takes a few seconds and the process is generally stable with almost no connection drops.
Overall, the PIA Windows app is quite usable.
PIA VPN for MacOS
The PIA VPN app for MacOS is pretty much the exact replica of the Windows app. All the features that you get in the Windows are version are also available in the Mac app. The connectivity and performance are also impressive, just like in the case of Windows.
PIA VPN for Linux
PIA is one of the only few providers that actually offers a complete GUI-based app for Linux systems, which looks performs very much like the other desktop apps for Windows and MacOS.
This is extremely commendable and PIA deserves 10/10 for its clean, stripped-down, yet highly configurable VPN apps for desktops and smartphones alike.
PIA VPN for Android
The Android app extremely features a simple and highly intuitive design. The home screen consists mostly of white space with a large on and off button that you can toggle with a tap. At the bottom is mentioned your currently selected server location and IP address.
To change the server region you can simply tap on the region displayed at the bottom of the screen, which will open the full list of available server locations. The app provides a lot of configurable settings including UDP and TCP connections, port forwarding, encryption standards, automatic protection in case of connecting to unknown Wi-Fi hotspots, and even a Per App Settings which essentially offers split-tunneling functionality.
Suffice to say, the provider certainly invested a lot of time and energy into developing the Android app which offers a crazy amount of options while still remaining super easy to use.
PIA VPN for iOS
The iOS app looks and behaves the same way PIA’s Android version. However, it is not as configurable due to the fact that iOS doesn’t permit low-level tweaking in any app. Nonetheless, it still provides an impressive range of settings that can be changed such as VPN protocols, Kill Switch, Adblocker (MACE), and more.
Overall, it is a very streamlined and usable app.
Pricing – How much is Private Internet Access?
PIA VPN has three (3) affordable pricing plans for its existing as well as new users. This is what the current pricing looks like:
All PIA VPN packages offer a 7-day money-back guarantee and 10 simultaneous connections. So, you can connect up 10 different devices on a single Private Internet Access account. I also like the fact that its refund policy also doubles as a free trial.
Payment Methods: Bitcoin and Much More
The VPN currently accepts payments via Credit Cards, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, PayPal, Amazon, Ripple, Amazon Pay, and Mint. While most VPN providers take the high road when it comes to accepting cryptocurrencies, this VPN goes all in.
Moreover, you can use PIA gift card option for anonymous payment. This shows that providers are serious about their commitment to the privacy of the users.
Trustworthiness – Background, Trustpilot Ratings, Reddit Reviews & Support
The company has a shady reputation for engaging in questionable practices in the past (such as hiding malware in their advertisement tools).
Therefore, the jurisdiction and company history are factors that do not go in favor of PIA.
PIA has a good reputation on Trustpilot. The provider has a rating of 4.0/5.0 with 5,400 user reviews. 63% of the users have rated the service excellent.
PIA VPN Reddit Reviews
Is PIA any good? Well, considering the Trustpilot ratings and my personal review, the VPN is certainly one of the best in the market. Still, it pays to see what other users on Reddit have to say about the service.
Most comments on Reddit speak favorably of PIA VPN, which is a good sign:
Naturally, there are some negative comments about the service too.
And then there are some comments that are critical of some aspects of the VPN:
Complies with GDPR
Private Internet Access is included in the list of GDPR compliant VPNs. Users of PIA can demand the provider to provide information about how their data is being used by the service, as per GDPR’s requirements. After abiding by all the guidelines of GDPR in the right way, PIA has improved its reputation in the minds of their existing and potential users to a new plane.
To know about other VPNs that follow GDPR, read this detailed guide.
Customer Service: No Live Chat, Tickets Only
PIA VPN does not offer live chat support, which is extremely disappointing. Instead, it has opted the more classical email ticketing system.
The providers answer Email queries within 10 to 12 hours. The replies are comprehensive, clear and helpful.
The good news is that the providers still offer a knowledgebase, Guides, and a Blog. With the help of these services, you can setup this VPN on any of your preferred devices. Nevertheless, there is no such as Live Chat when you need quick solutions.
PureVPN vs Private Internet Access
If you want to compare between PureVPN and Private Internet Access, you can explore the below-mentioned table:
|Servers||2000+ in 140 Countries||3,335+ in 30+ Countries|
|Compatibility||All Devices||All Devices|
|Jurisdiction||Hong Kong||United States|
|Logging Policy||Zero Log||Does not Keep logs|
|Customer Support||Live & Email Support & Contact Us||Knowledgebase & Tickets|
Alternatives to PIA VPN
If you aren’t satisfied with the features offered by PIA, then you have a ton of best VPNs to choose from:
- PureVPN Review 2020
- Surfshark Review 2020
- Ivacy VPN Review 2020
- ExpressVPN Review 2020
- CyberGhost Review 2020
Do I Recommend Private Internet Access?
Yes, I recommend Private Internet Access.
Considering the fact that it is quite affordable, has a large server network, good logging policy, and extremely smooth VPN apps, PIA is certainly a VPN worth its salt.
Nonetheless, the provider does have some flaws which I found in this Private Internet Access review. For instance, its network is restricted to 30 countries only, which is smaller than some of its rivals. Moreover, the provider doesn’t support services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, and neither does it work in China.
Overall, it is a good VPN to have if privacy is your main concern. But if you need powerful VPN servers that can unblock geo-restricted streaming websites, there are better options available.
I therefore give 3.6/5.0 to PIA in my review.
Looking for alternatives? See VPN reviews 2020 page for a detailed evaluation of over 150 other providers.
Also, if you’re looking for more premium VPNs at cheaper rates, check out our amazing christmas VPN deals 2019!