PIA (Private Internet Access) review (2020) – A Well-secured, Low-priced Service
Private Internet Access (usually abbreviated as PIA) is one of the larger VPN providers on the VPN market at this moment. One of their best features is their focus on privacy. They have a strict no-log policy, making PIA especially popular amongst (bit)torrent users. Additionally, Private Internet Access is known for its minimalistic and compact apps and programs. Some consumers think this is a plus, while others might consider it a letdown. We tested this VPN service and looked at PIA’s internet speeds, security, privacy, user-friendliness, server network and extra features. This is what we found.
PIA was recently bought by Kape Technologies. This company also acquired the VPN providers Cyberghost and Zenmate in the last couple of years. This could mean some changes for PIA in the years to come. However, it is difficult to say what will happen exactly. We will be watching to see if the change has any effect on the safety and privacy of their users.
- Simultaneous connections: 10
- Operating systems: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux
- Protocols: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP
- Logging policy: No logs
- Servers: 3335 servers in 30 countries
- Price: From $2,91 a month
- Money back guarantee: 7 days
Speed – How Fast is PIA?
The speed of a VPN connection depends on many different factors. Some key factors are the speed of your own connection, the distance between where you are and the VPN server and the speed and location of the server you are exchanging data with, for instance the web server, torrent server or newsgroup server you wish to connect to. The ping (response time) and stability of the connection are also very important.
To give you a good idea of how Private Internet Access holds up in terms of speed, we have performed various speed tests. We took our personal experiences into account as well by testing PIA during daily use. You can find the results below.
Speed test results PIA
Below, you can see the results of the speed tests we ran on Private Internet Access. Please note that these measurements always vary per location, internet provider and time of day. For this reason, we also included a speed test of our connection without VPN as a benchmark.
Speed without a VPN (Speedtest.net):
These are the results from speedtest.net of our own internet connection without using a VPN. This is a “blank” test that we’ll use to compare the other results to.
Speed with a local server (Speedtest.net):
These are the results from speedtest.net of our internet connection when we connect to a PIA server that is closest to our location. The results are promising. The ping slightly increased, from 4 to 7, but the download and upload speeds hardly decreased. In practice, results like this should mean you notice little to no difference in internet speeds when using such a VPN server.
Speed with a USA server (Speedtest.net):
These are the speedtest results of our internet connection when we connect to a PIA server in the United States. This shows a completely different picture: the ping increased immensely, while the download and upload speeds decreased substantially. In other words, one would definitely notice delays with results like this. Such results aren’t surprising for a VPN server located a great distance away from the user. After all, that distance means that all internet traffic has to make a great detour past that server before it’s sent to the right place. This almost always slows down your connection.
Note: a VPN will not increase your speeds above the limit set by the monthly subscription of your ISP. For example, if you have a subscription with an internet service provider for 10MB per second a VPN will not increase this.
Speed during everyday use
PIA is a very pleasant VPN for everyday use. We hardly noticed a difference compared to our internet connection without a VPN. We could browse, stream music and videos, and use YouTube – all without lag or other problems. We were also able to watch American Netflix with a US server. If anything, Netflix needed a little extra time to buffer an episode, but the video played without any issues after that. We could play online games without any lag and were also able to download torrents very fast: a file of nearly 2GB within 15 minutes. All in all, we hardly noticed that our PIA VPN connection was enabled when we used it for everyday internet activities—an excellent quality for a VPN to have.
Conclusion speed PIA
- The results of the speed tests were mixed, with some good results for our local PIA servers and some lesser results for the US servers
- During day-to-day use, the internet speeds don’t, or hardly, decrease when browsing, streaming or downloading
Safety – How Secure is PIA?
VPNs are all about security and anonymity. A good VPN provider should handle your data with care and make sure none of it falls into the wrong hands. They should also safeguard your privacy and allow you to remain as anonymous as possible when using their services. PIA puts safety and privacy first, and therefore certainly excels at these aspects. They only use the strongest VPN-protocols, maintain a no-log policy, and require as little personal information as possible. In this section, we will delve a little deeper into these aspects of Private Internet Access.
When it comes to security and encryption, Private Internet Access has their affairs neatly in order. They work with various protocols (OpenVPN, PPTP, IPSec/L2TP) and also have a SOCKS5 proxy. Most users will want to opt for OpenVPN, as this is a rock-solid protocol. Do you want more speed and are you less worried about encrypting your data? Then you can easily choose one of the other protocols within PIA’s software. To find out more about protocols you can check out our article that compares all the different protocols on the market.
Logging and privacy
Private Internet Access is known for its attention to privacy, which is shown by the provider’s every move. PIA maintains a strict no-log policy. This creates a safer and more anonymous experience for users, which PIA values above all. User browsing data is never stored on hard disks, but on a special null device. This is a virtual device that automatically pretends as if any data sent through it doesn’t exist. Once the information has been written to the null device, it becomes unable to retrieve. This is how PIA can guarantee their no-log policy.
Since PIA doesn’t log anything, they are unable to hand over information in case of a court order. PIA’s head offices are located in the United States, which was a conscious choice. The US is one of the few nations in the world that doesn’t have a mandatory data retention policy. This means PIA isn’t obliged to store information for a specific period of time, as is often the case in Europe. However, since PIA is located in the US, it’s possible they will be obligated to start logging information on a specific user to help identify them after a court order. During multiple trials and investigations, PIA has proven not to possess any information of the VPN use of their customers.
PIA has proven they take their customers’ privacy very seriously on multiple occasions. An example is their choice to remove the Russian servers from their server network. Some years ago, Russia decided that all domestic data traffic must be logged for at least one year. This law made it impossible for PIA to guarantee their users’ privacy, which is why they decided to no longer offer Russian servers.
When you use an external VPN provider, you always place part of your privacy in their hands. This means you have to trust them. Luckily, there have been no indications so far that PIA has ever harmed their customers’ privacy. On the contrary, they stand by their customers at every twist and turn.
Private Internet Access has a kill switch which you can find in the settings of the dashboard. An activated kill switch ensures that you are not accidentally leaking any information when your VPN connection is lost for a minute. Additionally, this VPN has a unique way of blocking domains which are used for ads, trackers and malware. This function is called PIA MACE and can be found in the settings under the kill switch.
What information does PIA need?
Before you can start using PIA’s VPN-service, the company will need your payment information. Private Internet Access offers many possibilities for paying anonymously, which we will get back to later. But just know that you don’t have to give them any personal information for this purpose if you don’t want to. Paying with i.e. Bitcoin is very easy. You are therefore only required to provide a working email address so PIA can link your account to it. You can, of course, register a new email address specifically for PIA so that it can’t be traced back to you.
Next, PIA will create an account name for you, and you’ll receive an ‘Order ID’ in a confirmation email after you’ve paid. You can use these codes when you need to communicate with the support team, for example. That’s all you need: a working email address. Other than that, PIA can be used entirely anonymously.
Conclusion safety PIA
- PIA works with various strong protocols, such as OpenVPN
- PIA has a strict no-log policy
- PIA has a built-in kill switch and PIA MACE for blocking ads, trackers and malware
- The only information you need to give them to create an account is an email address and your payment information, but both can be done anonymously
Usability – How User-friendly is PIA?
User-friendliness can make or break a VPN service. A dashboard that’s easy to navigate means that you can set up your VPN in no-time. A good price makes the step towards protecting yourself online smaller. A well-organized website means that you have a functional dashboard on your computer in no time. And finally, a good customer service can help you get back online quickly without a worry when you’re experiencing an issue.
All these things matter when determining the user-friendliness of a VPN provider. PIA scores very satisfactorily on all these aspects.
The PIA website
The website of Private Internet Access contains a truck-load of information, conveniently seperated into clear menu-items. The homepage provides a summary of the most important information on their service, which includes reasons for using a VPN, a short video explaining what a VPN does, the prices of their various subscriptions, the different features of PIA, and some reviews.
Using the menu at the top, you can access the other parts of the website. Here, you learn more about how a VPN works and what the server network of PIA looks like. Additionally, you’ll find the downloads, customer service, blogs, and the log-in page for your personal account. The website is (almost entirely) available in multiple languages.
Creating an account is very easy and happens automatically when you register for a subscription. You can do this by selecting one of the subscriptions on the homepage or by clicking on ‘Register now’ in the menu. Select your subscription, select the payment method, and complete the registration by filling in the rest of the information needed. All you have to do now is download the software.
The PIA software can be downloaded for Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS and Android. There are also extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. PIA is therefore compatible with nearly all devices. The ‘Download’ page of the website of PIA shows you all your options neatly displayed. Simply click the right operating system to download the relevant file.
We used the Windows application of PIA, therefore the download instructions we’ll explain will be for Windows. As soon as you open the downloaded file, the installer will start. Installing the dashboard takes less than a minute, but is nevertheless carefully explained step-by-step by PIA. Use your account information to log in. Now you can really get started.
PIA’s appearance and ease of use
PIA’s software is designed to get in your way as little as possible. When you open the dashboard, you will see a large ‘ON’ button, a small map and the VPN server which is selected for you. After connecting with the VPN server, you will find your IP address at the bottom, along with the IP of the VPN server you are using at that moment. If you click on the arrow at the bottom, you’ll see more information and possibilities: regularly selected VPN servers, performance and use of your connection, quick settings and the type of subscription you have.
When you click on the three dots in the top right corner, you’ll be able to access more comprehensive settings. For example, you can configure the language, theme and general preferences under ‘General’, or review your account information under ‘Account’. The kill switch and PIA MACE can be found under ‘Privacy’. Furthermore, you can set up your network preferences under ‘Network’ and your connection preferences under ‘Connection’. These settings are a little more advanced, but are configured to the best settings for users wanting to get started right away by default. Finally, you can find support—such as a tour of the software and a link to the helpdesk—under ‘Help’.
The dashboard will disappear from your display when you’re not using it. If you need it, you can find it in your task bar. Sometimes, you might have to click the little arrow in the bottom right corner of your display (^). You’ll need to click this if you want to enable or disable the connection. This way, the application will stay hidden unless you really need it. This is a useful feature when you want to keep your VPN out of sight, but it can be annoying when you want to do something within the dashboard: as soon as you click somewhere else in your display, the dashboard is gone again.
In general, PIA’s software is transparent and pleasant to work with. It has a calm appearance and clear options.
Pricing and methods of payment
PIA offers three subscriptions to choose from: a monthly, a 6 month and a yearly option. If you decide on a monthly contract—which you can cancel after each month—it will cost $6.95 per month. A 6 month contract comes down to $5.99 per month. If you choose a yearly contract, you’ll only spend $3.33 per month. This means you save over 50% compared to a monthly subscription. In short: the longer your subscription, the cheaper it relatively is for you.
All subscriptions to Private Internet Access give you complete access to their entire VPN network. They also provide a 7-day money-back guarantee, allowing you to try the VPN before actually committing to a contract.
PIA accepts many different payment options:
- Credit card (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Discover, JCB)
- Mint Prepaid
Plenty of options for paying your subscription, we think. There are various anonymous payment methods, such as Bitcoin, that allow you to maintain complete privacy, even when it comes to purchasing your VPN connection. Again, PIA puts anonymity first, which is highly appreciated by many users—including ourselves.
PIA and Linux
PIA has taken good care of its Linux users. For Debian, Fedora, Slackware and Arch distribution users it is possible to install OpenVPN through the terminal. Far better though, is the option to install the Windows UI for Linux. Especially for new users of Linux, this can be incredibly convenient. With such a UI available for Linux, PIA is one of the very few VPN providers that has tried to make life easier for Linux users. Unfortunately, the app is only available to Linux distributions that also have the systemd software suite. These include Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Debian and Arch.
PIA’s server network isn’t the most extensive, nor does it contain the fastest servers out there — that honor goes to ExpressVPN. But there are plenty of servers for the vast majority of users and most of the servers display a noticeable degree of reliability and consistency. While testing PIA, we did not encounter any security issues whatsoever. To top it all off, PIA offers a number of useful additional features. First, there is PIA’s own program called “Mace”. This program offers additional security against adverts, trackers and malware. In the app, you also have the option to switch to custom DNS servers or change the level of encryption. Of course there is also a kill switch present and, finally, you can choose to route your traffic through a SOCKS5 proxy for extra tunneling through SSH.
PIA may not have the most servers, or the fastest servers, but PIA is both competitive and consistent across each category. Whether it is speed, security or usability, PIA offers a quality product that is a fine choice for most Linux users.
PIA’s helpdesk offers various possibilities. You can consult their database or instruction manuals when you have an issue. It is also possible to provide feedback if you think that PIA should fix a certain existing problem or add a function. Other users can ‘vote’ for this, after which PIA will determine if they can do something with the feedback.
If you run into an issue that you can’t fix after consulting the database, you can also contact PIA by completing a contact form. You’ll have to give some information about your account and pose your question. This form does have to be completed in English. You’ll receive their answer by email.
We sent them a question ourselves, and got a response back after 6 hours. The email contained more detailed information and follow-up questions that could help us more if we needed it. All in all, the answer was quick and thorough enough. Even though PIA doesn’t offer live chat and you therefore have to wait a bit for an answer, we think the system they have now is very decent.
Conclusion usability PIA
- The website of PIA is very informative and clear
- Installing PIA is quick and effortless
- PIA’s software can be found on the task bar and is easy to navigate
- There are three PIA subscriptions, of which a 1-year contract is the cheapest option at $3.33 per month
- PIA offers many different and plenty of anonymous payment options
- The customer service is quick and helpful and works through an online form and email
Server Network PIA
A VPN provider’s server network determines your possibilities. You’ll need to be able to choose from multiple server locations if you want to bypass a geographical restriction. For instance, when you want to watch the offer of the American Netflix from another country. In this section, we will tell you how many servers and server locations Private Internet Access offers. We will also briefly explain why PIA chose to not offer dedicated IP addresses.
Number of servers and locations
At this moment, Private Internet Access has 3335 servers across 30 countries. For most users, this is more than enough servers across ample locations. PIA indicates that they are continuously working on expanding their server network, so you can check their website to find out the latest developments.
At time of writing, PIA has various servers (and server locations) across 32 countries:
|Country||Number of server locations||Number of servers|
|United Arab Emirates||1||4|
Dedicated IP address
Private Internet Access does not offer dedicated IP addresses. They want to offer their users the highest form of anonymity possible at all times, which is why all their IP addresses are shared addresses. This better protects your online privacy. PIA sees a dedicated IP as nothing more than a normal, unsecured internet connection, and therefore sees no reason to offer this service. Clearly, they put anonymity first.
Conclusion server network PIA
- At this time, PIA has 3335 servers across 30 countries
- They have 14 server locations in the US
- PIA does not offer dedicated IP addresses
Most users find it important that a VPN keeps them safe and anonymous, but a VPN also gives you more freedom to use internet. For instance, you can access the Netflix offer of different countries, which means you can watch a larger selection of shows and movies. Downloading torrents is also much safer with a VPN. We will discuss these possibilities in this section.
PIA and Netflix
Watching (foreign) Netflix is a hot topic in the world of VPN. Netflix is fighting VPNs hard, and blocks every IP address that they know is from a VPN provider. For many providers, it’s difficult to have Netflix work with their VPN connection as a result. PIA does their best to keep making it possible for you.
When we performed our test, we were able to access the American Netflix from the Netherlands through a VPN server in New York. PIA told us that Netflix works on their American, Canadian and British servers. This suggests that they are working hard on keeping it so. In any case, at this time, it’s possible to watch the offer of the American Netflix from other countries, using PIA.
PIA and torrents
It’s possible to download files via P2P when making use of the Private Internet Access servers. Downloading torrents is easy and goes fast. You don’t even notice that you are using a VPN, except that you are indeed protected and are downloading anonymously.
PIA Browser extension
Apart from the PIA software, PIA also has a handy browser extension. This works about the same as the regular desktop and smartphone software. The difference is that the browser extension only ensures that the browser traffic runs via VPN. Other applications that use the internet but don’t run through the browser are not protected by the VPN connection. By the way, the browser extension gives you extra options regarding tracking, as shown below in a screenshot of the extension settings.
Conclusion options PIA
- You can watch the American, British and Canadian Netflix with PIA
- Downloading torrents with PIA is easy, fast and secure
Interview with PIA
We had the opportunity to ask some questions to the people behind the scenes at Private Internet Access. We talked about the safety and privacy of their service and the way the manage their servers. Find out what our questions were and the answers that PIA had for us (albeit the slightly condensed version).
1. Do you keep logs that would allow you to link an IP address to a certain user?
“No, we don’t keep any logs.”
2. Could you tell us a little more about the data retention laws you must abide to?
“At the moment, there are no laws in the US that oblige VPN providers to store data.”
3. What tools do you use to monitor and combat improper use of your services?
4. What happens when you receive a DMCA takedown notice, or the European equivalent of it?
“DMCA takedown notices are handled by our Legal Department. However, it’s impossible for us to link information to a certain user, as we don’t keep logs.”
5. What steps are taken if a court order for tracking down a particular user is issued? Has this ever happened before? Would you be able to identify a user in such a case?
“Court orders are handled by our Legal Department. But since we don’t log anything, we cannot hand over any data.”
6. Are BitTorrent and other file sharing traffic allowed on all your servers?
“Yes, torrenting is allowed on all our servers, although downloading and sharing illegal material isn’t permitted by law. Every now and then, there are providers who will block the portals used for torrents. That is why we have a couple of servers that permit port forwarding, so we can bypass these blocks.”
7. Do you have your own DNS servers?
“Yes, we do have our own DNS servers. These prevent possible DNS leaks. Our PIA applications automatically use these DNS servers.”
8. Do you have physical control over all your servers?
“At the moment, we have 3467 servers in over 30 countries. That is why we are forced to use a number of external data centers and suppliers, all of which are bound by strict agreements that are in accordance with the values of Private Internet Access. We also continuously monitor the status and regulations of the countries in which our servers are located. If there are any changes in the regulations, we determine whether the “costs and benefits” still meet our requirements. In some unique cases this will lead to suspending our services in a certain country (such as in Russia in 2016).”
Conclusion – Our Experience with PIA
|Strong security||No live customer service|
|No logs||Dashboard is part of the task bar|
|Strong focus on privacy|
|US Netflix works|
|Simple and clear software and website|
Private Internet Access is one of the largest VPN providers of the moment. They are known for their focus on security and privacy. And for a good reason: their no-log policy is airtight, and they keep a watchful eye on any changes in the world that might affect the privacy of their users. In addition, they offer a wide selection of servers and server locations, which generally provide a stable and fast connection. The American Netflix and other streaming services all appeared to be supported properly.
On top of all that, PIA is very reasonably priced when you register for a subscription for a longer time. This, combined with simple and clean software, makes that we happily recommend PIA if you are looking for a quality VPN. The only possible downsides are lack of a live chat with the customer service, and the fact that the dashboard disappears when you click somewhere else in your display. It goes without saying that these are minor downsides, which some might even consider to be assets. In conclusion, PIA is a very reliable, fast and good VPN provider.