PIA (Private Internet Access) Review (2021) – A Secure and Cheap Option
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.
Our Experience with PIA: Short Summary
|Strong security||No live customer service|
|Proven no-logs policy||Not that innovative|
|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. Their reputation when it comes to privacy proves true: 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. American Netflix and other streaming services all appeared to be supported properly as well.
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 the lack of a live chat with the customer service and the fact that the dashboard disappears when you click somewhere else on your display. It goes without saying that these are minor downsides, which some might even consider being assets. In conclusion, PIA is a very reliable, fast, and good VPN provider.
- Torrenting allowed
- Works with Netflix
- Zero logs
- Credit card
Speed – How Fast is PIA?
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:
- The results of the speed tests were mixed, with some good results for our local PIA servers and lesser results for the US servers.
- During day-to-day use, the internet speed hardly decreases when browsing, streaming, or downloading.
Speed test results PIA
Below, you can see the results of the speed tests we ran while using 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 “benchmark” test that we use to assess the speed of PIA’s servers.
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 Netherlands). The results are quite remarkable. The ping slightly increased, from 9 to 22, but the download and upload speeds stayed approximately the same. This means this local PIA server should be about as fast as our own connection.
Speed with a USA server (speedtest.net):
These are the speed test results of our internet connection when we connect to a PIA server in the United States. This shows a somewhat expected picture. The ping increased immensely, while especially the download speed decreased substantially. In other words, one would 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 must make a great detour past that server before it’s sent to the right place. This almost always slows down your connection. Nonetheless, these results do show that PIA is a long way off from being the fastest premium VPN. In fact, PIA has shown to be the slowest VPN out of our VPN top 5.
Speed during everyday use
Despite the not-so-great speed test results, PIA is a pleasant VPN for everyday use. We did notice a change when performing day-to-day tasks, but this was only a slight difference in speed.
We could browse, stream music and videos, and use YouTube – without significant lag or delay. 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 significant lag and were also able to download torrents very fast: a file of nearly 2GB within under 15 minutes.
The main instances of low speeds we noticed were when starting a Netflix or YouTube video (once it started playing all was fine). All in all, PIA offers decent speeds for day-to-day activities but is not the fastest VPN around.
Safety – How Secure is PIA?
PIA puts safety and privacy first, and therefore certainly excels at these aspects:
- PIA works with various strong protocols, including OpenVPN and the new, innovative protocol WireGuard. It also has a SOCKS5-proxy. Recently PIA has ensured that all of its VPN servers now support the new Wireguard protocol.
- 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.
When it comes to security and encryption, Private Internet Access has its affairs neatly in order. They work with various protocols (OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, and WireGuard) and have a SOCKS5 proxy. Most users will want to opt for OpenVPN, as this is a rock-solid protocol. WireGuard is also swiftly becoming popular and is now available as an incredibly secure protocol on PIA as well.
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 encryption protocols you can check out our article that compares all the different protocols on the market.
Logging and privacy
PIA was bought by Kape Technologies in 2019. This company also acquired the VPN providers CyberGhost and Zenmate in the last couple of years. 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 its 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 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, 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 regarding the VPN use of their customers.
There does seem to be some worry on online fora for instance regarding PIA’s official location (the US). Many point out that the US is home to some organizations that can be very persistent when it comes to obtaining US citizens’ data, such as the NSA and the FBI. An anonymous source even shared the particularly bold claim with VPNOverview that “other websites discovered PIA has worked together with the NSA” and that “PIA has received gag orders by judges in the past”. While shocking, we were not able to find evidence that supports either of the above claims.
Technically it is possible, as one Reddit user pointed out, that PIA could receive a court order to start monitoring one or more users’ data traffic, combined with a gag order. This would mean that no one would ever find out that PIA users are being monitored. Nevertheless, we must stress that this concern is merely based on theory and possibility and not on actual evidence. At least not on evidence that we were able to find. Nevertheless, if you are one of those who are concerned with PIA being located in the US, there are providers out there which are located in countries with a better privacy reputation, such as ExpressVPN (British Virgin Islands) and NordVPN (Panama).
PIA and Russia
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 place your trust in 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 that are used for ads, trackers, and malware. This function is called PIA MACE and can be found in the settings under the kill switch.
PIA’s ioXt certificate
Another testament to PIA’s serious approach towards transparency and security is the fact they recently had their Android app ioXt-certified. ioXt (Internet of Secure Things) is an alliance comprised of over 100 large companies, who work together and strive to make the internet more secure and more privacy-orientated. It’s great to see that PIA is committed to making its mobile applications just as safe as their desktop equivalents.
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, so 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.
Usability – How User-friendly is PIA?
PIA scores very satisfactorily when it comes to ease-of-use:
- The website of PIA is very informative and clear.
- Installing PIA is quick and effortless.
- PIA’s software is easy to navigate.
- There are three PIA subscriptions, of which a 2-year plan is the cheapest option at $2.69 per month.
- PIA offers many different and plenty of anonymous payment options.
- The customer service is helpful and works through an online form and email, though it is a bit slow.
The PIA website
The Private Internet Access website contains a truckload of information, conveniently separated into clear menu items. It’s available in multiple languages. On the home page is a button that’ll allow you to get a subscription right away. Simply click it, choose your preferred subscription, select a payment method, and fill in your details. Now all you have to do is download the software.
The PIA website also hosts your personal account’s login page. The website overall is very clearly structured and contains extra information about PIA’s services and the size of its network.
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.
Note: Keep in mind that PIA’s software no longer supports Windows 7. Many people still run this operating system on their PC, because it might work a bit better and faster, mainly on older devices. If you’re one of these people, it would be better to choose a VPN that does support Windows 7, such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
PIA’s appearance and user experience
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 help desk, 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 tray. 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.
You can change this setting under ‘Dashboard Appearance‘, which is located under ‘General‘ in the ‘Settings‘ window. Changing it to ‘Window‘ will attach PIA to your taskbar instead of the tray, making it easier to find when minimalizing.
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 yearly, and a two-yearly option.
If you decide on a monthly plan—which you can cancel after each month—it will cost $9.95 per month. A yearly plan comes down to $3.33 per month. If you choose a two-yearly plan, you’ll only spend $2.69 per month. This means you save massively compared to a monthly subscription. On top of that, you’ll get two months extra for free with this last subscription (which has already been calculated in the monthly price). You’ll also get a free cloud security license called Boxcryptor. 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 30-day money-back guarantee, allowing you to try the VPN before committing to a contract.
PIA accepts many different payment options:
- Credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover)
- Amazon Pay
- Cryptocurrency (Bitpay, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin)
- Gift cards
Plenty of options for paying your subscription, we think. There are various anonymous payment methods, such as Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, 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 takes 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 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 help desk 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 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.
Server Network PIA
A VPN provider’s server network determines your possibilities. PIA has some amazing features when it comes to this:
- Currently, PIA has over 33,000 servers in 96 locations across 73 countries.
- They have 14 server locations in the US.
- PIA offers dedicated IP addresses in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany.
Number of servers and locations
At this moment, Private Internet Access has more than 33,000 servers across 73 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 the time of writing, PIA has various servers spread out over 96 locations across 73 countries:
- Americas: United States, Canada, Mexico, Greenland, Brazil, Panama, Bahamas, Argentina, Venezuela
- Europe: the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Romania, France, Czech Republic, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Finland, Poland, Portugal, Albania, Iceland, Luxembourg, Ukraine, Lithuania, Andorra, Latvia, Greece, Bulgaria, Estonia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey, Hungary, Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Malta, Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, Monaco
- Asia and Pacific region: Australia, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mongolia, Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Macao, China, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan
- The Middle East and Africa: Israel, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar
Apart from drastically increasing its number of servers yet again, PIA has also recently created an entirely new network for its users: PIA’s NextGen VPN Network. The main advantage this network offers is that its servers only store data using RAM-memory, rather than HDD/SSD storage. This means that (sensitive) user data is completely deleted every single time a server is temporarily without power. This is obviously a huge advantage when it comes to privacy. PIA’s latest desktop and mobile apps use this network by default.
Dedicated IP address
Private Internet Access has recently added dedicated IP addresses to their service. A dedicated IP can better your browsing experience because you won’t get as many captcha’s. For this feature, you will have to pay a little extra on top of your subscription. For now, the feature only offers dedicated IPs in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Germany. PIA will most likely be adding more countries to this list soon. If you aren’t in one of these countries and you want a VPN with a dedicated IP, NordVPN or CyberGhost might be right for you.
PIA has multiple extra possibilities and options:
- You can watch American, British, and Canadian Netflix with PIA.
- Downloading torrents with PIA is easy, fast, and secure.
- PIA has a useful browser extension that can protect just your browser’s traffic.
- Split tunneling is now also possible with PIA.
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 its best to keep making it possible for you.
When we performed our test, we were able to access 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 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 a 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.
A new feature recently added by PIA is split-tunneling. This is a technique that allows you to choose which apps do or don’t use the VPN, which means that you can choose which apps will have a speed delay. So if, for example, you want to look at Netflix on your own connection, but at the same time visit a site anonymously, you can disable the VPN for the Netflix app.
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 they 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 [thousands of] servers in over 73 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).”
Do you have a question about PIA? Click one of the questions below for the answer. If you’re still having problems or want to ask a different question, feel free to leave a comment below this article. We’re here to help and will answer as soon as we can!
PIA is known for its focus on privacy and security. This VPN uses strong protocols: OpenVPN, PPTP, IPSec/L2TP, and WireGuard. It doesn’t log any of your data and offers a built-in kill switch and adblocker. PIA allows you to create an account completely anonymously. Unfortunately, this provider is situated in the US. Even so, they’ve proven time and again that they don’t log any VPN data to share with authorities or anyone else.
With PIA, you’ll likely be able to access the American, Canadian, and British versions of Netflix. However, not all of PIA servers work with Netflix, and those that do, can change constantly. If you find your server doesn’t work with Netflix, simply try another by changing to a different IP in your PIA dashboard.
PIA’s cheapest subscription will only cost you $2,69 a month. This is the price for a subscription for 2 years and two months extra. If you’d rather get a shorter subscription, for example for 1 year, you’ll pay $3,33 a month. A monthly subscription comes down to $9,95.
PIA offers decent speeds during daily use. However, servers that are closer to your location will very likely be much faster than servers located farther away. The latter will delay your internet connection more, which might be inconvenient.
PIA is very user-friendly. The PIA website is informative and clear. Installing PIA is also quick and effortless. After being installed, the PIA software can be found on the task bar and is easy to navigate.
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