Private Internet Access Review 2021 - Consistently Inconsistent

by
Frederik Lipfert
Dr. Frederik Lipfert Founder, vpncheck
Updated on 13 Oct 2021
Frederik is a serial entrepreneur that jumped into entrepreneurship after earning his doctorate in physics. Founding and running an analytics company got him into the online privacy and security space he's now contributing to with vpncheck. Read full bio

Expert Contributions

Raeesa Essop
Raeesa Essop Network Engineer
Cassandra Mackin UI / UX Designer
Cassandra Mackin User Interface Designer
Jaosn Alexander
Jason Alexander Cybersecurity Researcher
Monika Lewko
Monika Lewko Privacy & Data Protection Lawyer
Alla Robert Aristakesyan
Alla Robert Aristakesyan Business Consultant
Tamara Milacic
Tamara Milacic Pricing Expert
Private Internet Access Review 2021 - Consistently Inconsistent

Introduction

With quite a geeky name, almost mistakable for some technical term, Private Internet Access entered the stream of VPNs as one worthy contender in 2010. And, in the current pandemic-plagued days and the following hike in people working from home, PIA still swiftly holds its place as a trustworthy and reliable VPN thanks to its humongous collection of 35000+ servers.

However, let’s not jump to conclusions! Can Private Internet Access really provide us with sufficient speeds to watch that geo-blocked Netflix show in peace? Will it support our Linux machine? Does it get through the great firewall of China? Are we secured enough that we won’t be stalked by FBI agents when we set foot outside? And besides, is the VPN actually affordable in the first place?

With loads and loads of unanswered questions, we thought why not buy our own subscription of Private Internet Access and take it for a test drive ourselves. Moreover, we didn’t forget to ask industry experts knowledgeable on each of these categories for their take on how Private Internet Access VPN holds up.

Summary

  • Streaming optimized – With a set of servers literally postfixed with those two words, PIA unblocks most of the popular streaming platforms and streams on average to high speeds.
  • Exhaustive coverage – Holding 35000+ RAM-only servers scattered around 78 countries, PIA easily tops other VPN services when it comes to the server volume.
  • Court-proven no-logs policy – Proven in numerous real-life court cases, PIA keeps no user logs to hand out even if their lives depended on it.
  • Feature-rich – With kill-switch, split-tunneling, multihop and loads more features, a VPN user would have abundant VPN options available right at their fingertips.
  • Moderately priced Never costly subscription plans. Monthly subscriber? An average cost for you. Yearly subscriber? Technically, you’d only have to pay one-third of what the monthly subscribers pay for a year!

PIA’s Network Performance: Fast Enough, but Don’t Count On It

How well does Private Internet Access endure the increasingly demanding network requirements of today’s life? Our tests present a good-news-bad-news situation here. Good news first, PIA bypasses most of the main streaming platforms and supports torrenting; but bad news-wise, it’s inconsistent. Let’s allow a real-life Network Performance Expert to share their thoughts about this:

Performance Expert Review and Rating of PIA’s Network Performance

Raeesa Essop
Raeesa Essop
Network Engineer

Private Internet Access has a lot of relevant/useful features that legitimately work. It can be useful for small businesses as it allows 10 simultaneous devices and allows for split tunnelling. The upload rates vary in performance so this would be very country-specific. The split tunnelling feature was indeed proven to work as it allows the traffic to a specific IP to go through the ISP, and this was tested using a traceroute command/test. The usability of it is not as great as other VPNs. They do not have a way of bypassing a URL, you need to add an IPV4/IPV6 address or a subnet in CIDR notation, which may not be very user friendly for some people. The applications are easier to bypass, however.

They also have a ‘PIA Mace’ feature to block adverts and malware. This option worked well to block pop-ups, requests for notifications and adverts on a variety of websites. 

The VPN experienced no DNS leaks or DNS intercepts. For the various leak tests undertaken PIA never disclosed that a VPN was being used. Even with a whitelist in place for split tunnelling, the anonymity was never compromised when on other sites. Websites that warn you to use a VPN also did not detect any information that reflected my actual ISP and IP address etc.

The provider also claims to use strictly bare metal servers with some acting as exit nodes and others as proxy servers. They are transparent about which servers are geo-located and which ones are physically in the locations stipulated. However, the South African servers are supposedly not geo-located, but the results of the speed test do not reflect this. The latency on the speed test for the local server was 569ms, and it should have been less than 10ms if it was indeed in the same country.

Regarding speed, the average drop was more than 60% for download rates. This is a significant overall drop thus the performance isn’t high ranking amongst other previously tested VPNs. The largest drop being 76% (ironically enough for the South African Server) and the smallest drop being 25% (Toronto, Canada). Regarding Upload rates, the drops varied between 25-75%. The largest drop being 89% (Mumbai, India) and the smallest drop being 16% (Berlin, Germany). Six of the servers had a latency of less than 200ms when speed tested between it and an optimal server. This is good news for users that perform applications that need low latency to participate.

There is a multi-hop and obfuscation server functionality that allows you to select your proxy server of choice. Each combination of the primary server and proxy server produced different performance results. The extra layer of encryption would often quadruple the latency and half or quarter the upload/download rates. The several combinations tested did unanimously lessen the overall performance. The user will have to find their ideal combination, but the speed will unlikely ever be as good as the exit node alone without the proxy server involved.

The VPN is completely open-source and also makes use of open-source protocols. This can lead to improved security and innovation which can improve it vastly in the years to come. However, some users may prefer a very well-performing VPN over one that is mediocre but also open source. 

Some functionality requires that you use a specific protocol. However, for performance, WireGuard fared better than OpenVPN. All tests conducted used WireGuard. The designated streaming servers fared well in terms of streaming YouTube/Netflix even in the highest quality available on each platform. They also unblocked geo-restricted streaming websites very easily. However, the provider has removed their assets from Russia and South Korea due to them being seized in the past.

Overall the performance is satisfactory, but this set-up may not be for the complete VPN novice.

Based on my opinion as an Electronic and Automation Engineer, I rate CyberGhost VPN  6.5/10.

    6.5
    6.5

    Can PIA Unlock Content from All Continents?

    We’re sure you’d agree that half the reason we’d reach for a VPN would be to stream geo-blocked content conveniently in our homes. Boasting as a VPN service sporting 35,000 and more servers around 78 countries, Private Internet Access surely gets our hopes high. Let’s find out if they’re justified, shall we?

    Netflix: Unblocked

    Thanks to their high server count, almost all of the Private Internet Access servers we tested in different locations managed to successfully log in and stream content on Netflix.

    But, quite unfortunately it was not the smoothest ride. 

    Most PIS servers we tested either

    • Gave us a Netflix Error Code M7037-1111 which is simply Netflix jargon for “We know you’re reaching us from a VPN IP address we’ve already blocked. Can’t let you through. Tough luck”.
    • Couldn’t get us through the Netflix login screen looping us on and on saying we’ve apparently entered the “incorrect password”:The Netflix login screen looping on saying “incorrect password”
    • Or once we finally logged in, gave inadequate speeds resulting in close to 10 second loading times each time we sought the video.

    Be that as it may, almost as a silver lining in the dark cloud, Private Internet Access provides a set of dedicated “Streaming Optimized” servers visible on their client apps’ servers list:Dedicated “Streaming Optimized” servers visible on PIA client apps’ servers list

    And thankfully, at least some of the “Streaming Optimized” servers passed Netflix login errors each time and provided admirable speeds on streaming.

    “Streaming Optimized” servers passed Netflix login errors each time and provided admirable speeds on streaming “Streaming Optimized” servers passed Netflix login errors and provided admirable speeds on 20 Mbps 4G WiFi

    As you can see, we received quite commendable speeds on the 20 Mbps 4G WiFi connection we performed our tests on.

    But, almost as if to keep to the inconsistency theme of PIA, the rest of the “Streaming Optimized” servers we tested gave us quite horrible results:

    PIA, the rest of the “Streaming Optimized” servers we tested gave us quite horrible results

    Hulu: Partly blocked, partly unblocked

    As a streaming platform confined to US boundaries, Hulu is one service we’d surely need the help of a VPN if we’re to access it from outside of the United States.

    When it comes to our Private Internet Access VPNas you might have already guessed—it shows its usual inconsistent behavior in the matter of Hulu, as well.

    At times, PIA succeeded in letting us log in and stream through Hulu. But, at other times, Hulu either informed our IP address or our login has been blocked for obvious reasons:Hulu, at times, either inform IP address or login been blockedHulu, at times, login been blocked

    Disney+: Unblocked

    Although Disney launched their streaming platform just a few years ago, Disney+ has already gained a following inside and outside the locales it currently supports.

    As far as Private Internet Access is concerned, we tested Disney+ on a scope of its server locations ranging from New York & Canada to London, France, Australia, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Argentina. And, quite delightfully we encountered no blocks whatsoever on any of these servers.Private Internet Access tested Disney+ on its server locations and encountered no blocks

    But, as is the case with pretty much any VPN, speeds did lower further away the VPN location got to our system’s physical location.

    Prime Video: Unblocked

    Although Amazon has been generous enough to let the whole world access Prime Video, their generosity isn’t past the dreaded geo-blocking. In other words, no one in the world would be exposed to the whole library Amazon Prime Video holds. But, wait. By “no one” we meant those who aren’t aware of VPNs, *wink*.

    Just as with Disney+, Private Internet Access had no issues loading the homepage, logging in, and streaming content on Prime Video!PIA smoothly stream Prime Video in its best video quality

    As you can see, we could smoothly stream Prime Video in its ‘Best’ video quality.

    BBC iPlayer: Unblocked

    One could call BBC’s iPlayer the British version of Hulu; and at least geoblocking-wise, they won’t really be that far from the truth.

    Can Private Internet Access help us in this scenario? 

    In our tests, the answer to that question would be “Yes, but only one-fourth of the time”. This is since from the four available PIA UK VPN servers, only the “UK London-Streaming” server managed to bypass iPlayer’s geo-restrictions. That is to say, the VPN service currently commanding the highest number of VPN servers in the whole wide world shrinks our choice of servers to a singular option if we’re to watch some iPlayer content.

    And to make matters worse, Private Internet Access is headquartered in the USwhere laws prohibiting geo-block circumvention have already been in discussion at law schools. So, the bottom line is, although we observed passable speeds when streaming BBC iPlayer using PIA, nobody knows for how long it would stay that way.

    DAZN: Blocked

    With a page dedicated to their stance on using VPNs to access their service: or the disapproval of it thereof, DAZN is one hard egg to crack when it comes to bypassing their geo-blocks with a VPN.

    And unfortunately, Private Internet Access falls to the same bucket of failed VPN when it comes to streaming DAZN content:

    Private Internet Access failed VPN to streaming DAZN content

    Torrenting Is Not off Limits

    Performance-wise, VPNs and P2P connections barely go hand in hand. Because of the obviously lowered speeds, one would use a VPN over their torrent connections only if

    • their ISPs are throttling their P2P bandwidth.
    • they’d prefer anonymous torrenting to keep off of all the viruses, spyware, etc.

    Luckily Private Internet Access wholeheartedly supports and allows torrenting on all of their servers. And, PIA showcased great torrenting speeds on all of our tests using multiple torrent clients!

    PIA’s Compatibility

    Private Internet Access provides clients and extensions for all the major platforms and browsers:

    • Desktop platforms:
      • Windows: 8.1 and higher (both 32-bit and 64-bit).
      • macOS: 10.13 High Sierra and higher (64-bit only).
      • Linux: Ubuntu 18.04+, Mint 19+, Arch, Debian.
    • Mobile platforms:
      • Android: 5.1 and higher.
      • iOS: 11 and higher.
    • Browser add-ons:
      • Chrome: v48 and higher.
      • Firefox: v57 and higher.
      • Opera: v52 and higher.
    • Routers:
      • Supports and provides guidance on DD-WRT, Tomato, PfSense firmware.
      • Officially recommends FlashRouter.

    They also hold detailed installation guides for each platform they support.

    Highest Number of Servers

    With a staggering quantity of 35000 and more servers spread over 78 countries, Private Internet Access currently holds the leading number of servers of all VPN services worldwide. Although usually, it’s the quality over quantity that actually matters, PIA’s exceptional server count surely helps their servers to neveror at least have the lowest chance toget overloaded with users.

    PIA’s Design: Boring!

    Assume you were watching a Netflix show with your child and asked them to change your VPN server location to one with a lesser latency. If your VPN was Private Internet Access, there’s a potential likelihood your kid would’ve switched the VPN protocol, turned off the kill switch, set the VPN to snooze in 5 minutes, and as a final touch, changed the app’s theme to “White” on their way back. That might be a slight exaggeration, but PIA’s collection of client apps do tend to look a bit too crowded with options, most of the time.

    Don’t merely take our word for it! Because we got in touch with an actual UI/UX Designer who’s a veteran in app designing to review PIA VPN in the terms of its design! Let us find out how they see Private Internet Access through their eyes:

    Our Expert Review and Rating of PIA’s UI/UX Design

    Cassandra Mackin UI / UX Designer
    Cassandra Mackin
    User Interface Designer

    Private Internet Access is a great VPN with a bunch of easy options that make it ideal for new and advanced users alike. They have one of the most widely recognized brands in the VPN world and are known for their reliability and excellent security. Their main color scheme and characteristic green Android-like anthropomorphized lock/human icon are super easy to recognize and arguably set them apart from the pack while also making them feel very familiar.

    PIA uses a lot of 3D graphics and playful characters, but with quite minimal use of animation they are a bit behind the times with their designs. While most modern sites have moved into the 2D and flat icon market, Private Internet Access continues to use 3D imagery that looks a bit outdated.

    They use industry-standard jargon instead of company-specific terms, which is a big plus, and they have an excellent array of tooltips and support articles to explain anything that might be too complicated for the average user. On the other hand, they offer plenty of features that only a knowledgeable VPN user would understand.

    Their design is simple with its many grays and greens, but possibly a little boring. A pop of color throughout the apps, whether reds/oranges for warnings and unset settings or actual illustrations with more than the standard gray, white, green, and black fare would be ideal. Some simple graphics would go a long way to add more flavor to their applications.

    There is a minor issue with the Windows app if you’ve had previous VPNs installed. I couldn’t get the app to connect to VPN without switching from OpenVPN to Wireguard in the Protocol settings. This doesn’t seem to be localized to my computer, as many others have reported this issue, especially when switching from SurfShark to PIA.

    My markdowns for PIA are

    1. No automatic gaming and p2p servers, 
    2. The aforementioned bug on Windows,
    3. Little variation in design or use of color, and
    4. No accessibility options like Narrator or font size.

    PIA does a great job with the technical aspects of VPNs but is far behind in terms of design.

    Based on my opinion as a UX & UI Designer I rate Private Internet Access VPN's user interference and user experience 6 / 10.

      6
      6

      Device Support of PIA

      Although not the biggest device coverage we’ve seen, Private Internet Access provides client apps to talk to their VPN service through all the main platforms, browsers, and then some.

      Windows

      Private Internet Access officially supports both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 8.1 and beyond. 

      All PIA features from protocol/DNS selection to dedicated IP, split tunneling, multi-hop, Kill Switch, MACE just to name a few, are readily available on the Windows client app.

      Mac

      PIA provides a client app for the 64-bit version of macOS 10.13 or higher.

      Even though some trending VPN services*cough*Surfshark*cough*—sometimes look past or delay features to Mac client apps compared to Windows, glad to inform you that this is not the case when it comes to PIA.

      Each and every function available on the latest version (v3.0.1) of the PIA Windows client app was available on the same version of the macOS client app as well. Kudos on PIA for that!

      Note: Split tunneling feature would require OS-level feature approval.

      Linux

      Private Internet Access cares for the Linux users just the same, bringing a client app compatible with Ubuntu 18.04+, Mint 19+, Arch, Debian Linux distributions. 

      And in case you wondered, yes, quite like the previous two platforms, the latest PIA Linux client app (v3.0.1) holds the exact same functions, as well.

      Android

      When we venture from the desktop platforms over to the mobile world, PIA bears a solid posture at least on the Android platform.

      Private Internet Access supports all Android versions starting from Android 5.1 (Lollipop) and onwards. All the PIA features are available this time around, as well–but interestingly, except the good ol’ PIA ad/tracker/malware blocker, namely MACE.

      iOS

      Private Internet Access supports iOS versions 11 and up for its client app. Although, it’s sad to say that unlike the rest of the platforms, the iOS client app for PIA seems to be the odd one out.

      It currently supports the Kill Switch and the dark mode; but as confirmed by a PIA live chat agent as well, split-tunneling, multi-hop, MACE features aren’t available “due to the Apple Store Terms of Service”:PIA Customer Support window

      But, at least in their places, PIA provides a “Safari Content Blocker” that blocks ads, trackers, and malware while browsing with Safari.

      Routers

      PIA officially supports and provides guidance on a set of firmware; namely, DD-WRT, Tomato, and PfSense. And, in particular, Private Internet Access recommends we consider a FlashRouter as our router of choice. Although that’s obviously some typical marketing from PIA’s side, in case you plan on buying a router to use with PIA, it’s still advisable to go with their recommendation. This is since if something goes wrong with your router or its VPN connection, PIA’s probably more likely to have your back, *another wink*.

      Apps and Extensions

      What’s the point of its wide array of supported devices, platforms, versions, features, all that jibber-jabber if a VPN doesn’t deliver some capable client apps to present them to the user? Luckily, Private Internet Access brings out a nice collection of uniformly-themed client apps for our use.

      Windows Client App

      Private Internet Access brings a no-holds-barred client app over to the Windows platform:Private Internet Access Windows Client App

      As you can see, the client app looks pretty crowded with loads of features in every corner. While an experienced VPN user might see it as “convenient access” to all the VPN features, to an amateur & basic user it could just be an information overload.

      “Settings” window holding an expansive set of PIA VPN features

      Clicking the options button at the top right corner gives access to a “Settings” window holding an expansive set of PIA VPN features:

      Not to forget, Private Internet Access also provides a set of detailed guides to install and use their Windows client app.

      macOS Client App

      Quite mistakable for the Windows client app, PIA brings an identical client for the macOS platform with identical features along with it:

      Private Internet Access macOS Client App setting option

      Same as before, PIA supplies a collection of setup guides to handle their client app for the Mac platform.

      Linux Client App

      We’ve seen VPNs put aside Linux users; or have seen them provide a subpar console application as their client app for Linux. But, not PIA! Private Internet Access presents a fully-fledged GUI client app for their customers using Linux platforms:

      And of course, PIS apparently shared its persistent theme with the Linux platform, as well! Ironically, seems at least “client app design” is one section PIS is good at keeping its consistency on, *yet another wink*.

      Private Internet Access macOS Client App setting option

      As usual, Private Internet Access provides its generous set of guides for Linux users, too.

      Android Client App

      Keeping to its consistent app design, PIA brings its Android client app bearing a familiar theme to its desktop counterparts:Private Internet Access Android Client App

      As always, we can rely on PIA’s comprehensive guides to get a hold of their Android client app.

      iOS Client App

      We believe at this stage it’s almost a no-brainer to guess the theme of PIA’s iOS client app. Because, yes, that consistent theme is present in Private Internet Access VPN’s iOS version, in the same fashion:Private Internet Access iOS Client App

      Browser Extensions for PIA

      Not stopping from the usual apps, Private Internet Access also caters us with a set of quite capable browser extensions:Firefox extension for Private Internet Access

      Firefox extension for Private Internet Access

      Chrome extension for Private Internet Access

      Chrome extension for Private Internet Access

      Opera extension for Private Internet Access

      Opera extension for Private Internet Access

      Inconsistency Flows Onto Browser Extensions

      Although PIA provides an exclusive Safari Content Blocker for their iOS client app, oddly they don’t bring in a browser add-on for Safari itself.

      Likewise, whilst the Chrome browser running the same Chromium engine as Microsoft Edge gets its PIA add-on, the same cannot be said about Edge.

      Let Us Walk You Through PIA

      Enough window shopping! Shall we go ahead and set up Private Internet Access on your computer?

      First up, click the Pricing option on PIA’s homepage menu bar and choose the best subscription plan suitable for you:

      The Pricing option on PIA’s homepage menu bar

      Once you’ve chosen your plan, secondly you’ll be redirected to a payment window:Payment window on PIA

      This is where you can choose your plan to have a dedicated IP, and additionally an antivirus add-on. And commendably, where a large selection of payment options, even including cryptocurrencies, are displayed.

      Make the payments so that thirdly, PIA would bring you a downloads page:Download the client app for the platform you prefer and install it

      Download the client app for the platform you prefer and install it.

      Note: Make sure to open the file with “Administrator” privileges in Windows, or “root” privileges in macOS or Linux:open the file with “Administrator” privileges in Windows

      Fourthly, click the PIA icon on the taskbar and enter your login credentials:

      the PIA icon on the taskbar and enter your login credentials

      That’s it! As your final step, let’s connect to the VPN. In this case, you can choose a simple method or a bit advanced one.

      Keep It Simple

      If you simply want to connect to whatever VPN location as soon as possible, we won’t waste another second of your time–simply press that huge power icon and you’ll automatically connect to the best PIA VPN available!Press the power icon and you’ll automatically connect to the best PIA VPN available

      Explore Your Connection Choices

      But, if you’re the Pro that wants to examine your options when connecting to a VPN, brace yourself because you just might be amazed how far the rabbit hole goes when it comes to PIA!

      Clicking the right-side arrow brings PIA’s VPN location list where you can

      • search for a preferred VPN location.
      • browse the locations sorting them from their name or latency.

      PIA’s VPN location list based on Name and Latency

      Likewise, pressing the bottom arrow presents a long list of options:

        • Quick connect option holding the lowest latency VPN locations.
        • Graph showing the performance of the VPN connection.
        • Usage bar showing the VPN connection’s download/upload speeds.
      • Quick settings toggle bar presenting a set of options, e.g., MACE, Port forwarding, Allow LAN, which you can easily trigger on/off.
      • Connection bar showing various connection-related settings used in the current VPN connection, e.g., Protocol, Encryption.
      • VPN Snooze option to snooze the connection for a preconfigured period of time.

      PIA VPN Snooze option to snooze the connection

      PIA’s Security: Not for the Most Privacy-Concerned

      Living in a world where we hear of grand-scale online security breaches almost every week or so, a VPN’s security unanimously becomes a top reason people reach to them in the first place. Unfortunately, if we’re to get straight to the point, Private Internet Access does not hold the best of the bunch when it comes to its security.

      With negative caveats like being headquartered in the US (a country part of the 5-Eyes alliance), a data breach reported back in 2015, and even an article on their official site informing what to do if a leak took place (which suspiciously implies PIA doesn’t declare a leak would never happen from their VPN), PIA is far from a perfect VPN in terms of security. But, to not lose all our hopes, PIA holds a clean record when it comes to their no-logs policy. Coupling that with their exhaustive catalog of privacy-related features (more on that later), PIA still holds ground as a viable VPN to use. Just to make things clearer, we contacted a professional Cybersecurity expert to express their opinions on PIA’s security:

      PIA’s Security and Privacy in a Cybersecurity Specialist’s Eyes

      Jaosn Alexander
      Jason Alexander
      Cybersecurity Researcher

      PIA VPN is not the first provider I’d recommend if you value your security or privacy. Their support responses to our extensive privacy and security questions are the weakest of any vendor I have reviewed so far this year.

      Historically their overall record is generally strong – particularly for a US provider; however with the Head Office in the USA, and their purchase by Kape (now Private Internet) who knows where things are at now.

      There have been a lot of vulnerabilities in their VPN software (which nearly all seem to be related to Open VPN) from 2017 to 2020 across multiple platforms. I have not reviewed their code, so it is possible PIA’s implementation has created additional issues, but Open VPN itself (as with many big VPN vendors) have made the headlines plenty of times for vulnerabilities.

      PIA’s no-logging policy has been effective in court twice; they also took down their Russian operations when the Russian government raided their server farm in 2016. Their applications are now open-source. You can alternatively connect with the vanilla OpenVPN client if you like. There was no unexpected unencrypted traffic DNS showing in traces or DNS leaking during testing, and WebRTC and similar testing also passed.

      In my opinion, PIA has previously demonstrated a strong commitment to privacy, and that may well be the case now, but until they prove it, I’d prefer to stick with other options.  

      A 3rd party audit of PIA’s no-logging policy; their server handling and access practices and their effective privacy and data logging (particularly the ‘System Information’) would see a boost to their rating.

      Based on my opinion as a cybersecurity specialist I rate PIA VPN's security 5 / 10 - this includes an extra point for having open-source client apps.

        5
        5

        Protocols of Private Internet Access

        Over at their client app settings, PIA provides a range of protocol-related options:PIA provides a range of protocol-related options

        PIA gives out a comparatively limited set of choices for the protocol to be used on the VPN connection:

        • OpenVPN
        • WireGuard

        Furthermore, hovering over the information (i) icon next to the Protocol label gives us a handy description of each of those making it easier for us to choose between the two:

        hovering over the information (i) icon next to the Protocol labelRight below the protocol selection is a plethora of choices rarely seen even in the most premium VPN client apps.

        PIA Security Features

        Private Internet Access presents a comprehensive set of security features for almost all the platforms it supports.

        Kill Switch

        This is one popular feature over VPN users who don’t want to risk their ISPs snooping on them for even a split second. A VPN supporting Kill Switch plainly disconnects the user’s network connection at the exact instance their VPN connection unintentionally drops. And, the good news is, PIA wholeheartedly provides this Kill Switch feature inside the client apps of all the platforms it supports (except browser extensions).

        No-Logs Policy

        As any trustworthy VPN service should do, PIA records no logs of their users as they claim over and over. Interestingly, no independent audit has been performed to ensure this claim; but, abundant real-life court cases surely prove its validity. That said, Private Internet Access states that they still record our username, email address, physical address, etc. for matters like payments, cancellations, tax obligations.

        Multi-Hop

        In case we don’t want to put all our faith on a single VPN server, multi-hop lets the data we send/receive traverse through an additional server. PIA supports this feature on Windows, macOS, and Linux by letting our VPN connection additionally cross through a Shadowsocks or SOCKS5 proxy. There’s no multi-hop feature support for iOS; but for Android, PIA allows the user to manually add a proxy app to proxy with their client app:

        RAM-Only Servers

        PIA introduced a network of “Next Gen” servers back in 2020 June which as per their design works solely on RAM storage. And, as confirmed through a PIA live chat agent as well, all 35000+ PIA servers have already upgraded to this NextGen network decommissioning their legacy network:PIA Customer Support asking if PIS servers are nextgen servers

        Onion Over VPN (TOR)

        We’re not judging—or plotting to hand you over to the government, *last wink, we promise*—but since you’re reading this, it seems even a multi-hop isn’t secure enough for you. And, that’s when you’d need a VPN over a TOR connection (which already traverses through multiple servers). Thankfully, PIA addresses your concerns by providing support and guidance for Onion Over VPN.

        Private DNS

        Why rely on your ISP’s domain-based throttling and your government’s domain restrictions when you’ve got PIA? Private Internet Access hosts its own PIA DNS servers which all supported platforms can use once they connect using PIA VPN.

        Dedicated IP

        As a feature most VPNs shy away from, commendably PIA provides a dedicated IP option–but, with an added cost. The particular function is available as an add-on at the checkout of a PIA subscription for an additional cost of $5 per month. Furthermore, Private Internet Access offers a choice of locations for our dedicated IP: US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany.

        PIA’s Reliability: Transparency Is King (for PIA)

        Would the fastest, grandest, and safest VPN in the whole world be worth a dime if they won’t patch up your VPN app in case it goes awry? With no direct support email address, a large but mostly outdated collection of support documents, and a live chat that makes you wait 10 to 15 minutes before connecting with an agent, PIA might feel more like a dystopia when it comes to their customer support. To add to that, PIA has been acquired by Kape in 2019–a company that operates other VPNs, some of which are 100% free. Hence, can we be sure if all the claims PIA held before the acquisition still holds true?

        Instead of getting carried away making assumptions, let’s consult a real-world Legal Expert to resolve these skepticisms and ask them to review and rate PIA:

        Legal Expert Opinion of Private Internet Access

        Monika Lewko
        Monika Lewko
        Privacy & Data Protection Lawyer

        Private Internet Access, Inc. is a computer software company, developer of VPN going by the same name, is in Greenwood Village, Colorado, United States (an agent’s address). According to Dun & Bradstreet Business Directory, there are two companies in the Private Internet Access, Inc. corporate family. Colorado State has a good standing in regards to Privacy Law – it has now joined California and Virginia to become the third US state to pass a broad data privacy regulation. The State Governor signed the Colorado Privacy Act (the “CPA”) into law on July 8, 2021. Operating in a privacy-friendly state is a significant advantage for a VPN provider, especially since the US is part of all three intelligence alliances: Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, Fourteen Eyes, which requires sharing internet user data outside the country. 

        PIA has a clear section about Personal Data Collected, with a concise definition of personal data, which indicates that the Company collects a standard set of personal data (E-mail Address, payment data, cookie identifiers, zip code). The Company claims not to share any other personally identifiable information other than what is being mentioned in the Privacy Policy, which is mostly Payment Data for processing payments as required by their third-party payment processors.

        PIA has considerably evolved a user-accessible Support Portal (https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/helpdesk/), where users can find information from Knowledgebase, Guides to Community section. The Company is GDPR compliant, with a data controller position distinguished, which is an equivalent role of a Data Protection Officer. PIA’s Privacy Policy has also a designated segment that contains a CCPA compliance statement as well. PIA also follows the common VPN services ‘no logs’ rule. There was no information on data leaks presented in reliable sources.

        Based on my opinion as an international business & privacy lawyer I rate Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN's privacy 8 / 10.

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          8

          Support From PIA

          Although sometimes outdated and sometimes nonexistent, Private Internet Access hosts a range of support options for its subscribers.

          PIA Support Portal

          Private Internet Access hosts a Support Portal on their official site featuring a

          • Community – lets users post suggestions and server requests.
          • Set of guides – holds a collection of platform-wise divided walkthroughs and other miscellaneous guides. Even though the mentioned walkthroughs are quite detailed, unfortunately, they aren’t updated to accurately exhibit the latest functions and features available on the latest client apps.
          • Knowledgebase – a large set of documents for almost any question a PIA user might have regarding their account, billing, and technical-related concerns. Noticeably, even a Guides and Articles (Other Language – 中国人)) section exists holding the knowledgebase content localized to the Chinese locale.
          • News – frequently updated VPN-related news archive.

          Contact Us – Provides a form to place a ticket to the Technical Support or Account Support department of PIA. Particularly, this is the only method we can expect an email reply from PIA since no direct support email address is provided.

          Live Chat

          We’d usually resort to the “live chat” option of a service when we need instant answers to a question. But, sad to say when it comes to PIA, ironically you might find your answer quicker from their Support Portal than through their unpredictable chat feature.

          We were thrilled to find out Private Internet Access launched their live chat option in June 2020 amidst an ongoing pandemic. However, this initial admiration was only short-lived once we got—or more like tried to get—our hands on this facility.

          For the first half of our research, the live-chat option was nowhere to be found on PIA’s official website. Then on one happy day, they announced the resumption of chat support. Forgiving them in our heads for the previous disappearance, we opened up the live chat–only for them to let us down once again:PIA Customer Support asking if PIS servers are nextgen servers

          As you can see, we had to wait for a PIA agent to arrive close to 10 minutes or so, only for their looped message to time out and ask us to open a ticket instead! This delay happened each time we opened the live chat, and it’s only half of the times we managed to reach an agent. But, at least as a single positive note, the agents we connected with were quite knowledgeable of all the PIA-related questions we inquired them about.

          Hence, the bottom line is, it’s best to resort to PIA’s live chat only if “Patience” is your middle name.

          How PIA Came to Be?

          Founded by entrepreneur and CEO of London Trust Media Andrew Lee, US-based Private Internet Access set foot into the world of VPNs back in 2010 August. Although the privacy-concerned VPN users were skeptical of PIA given it’s headquartered in the United States, PIA managed to gain their trust thanks to multiple court cases where the VPN had no logs whatsoever to present to the court.

          Fast-forwarding to 2019, the VPN merged into Kape Technologies which rekindled VPN user suspicions due to their troubled past involving PUPs. But, up until this day, Private Internet Access has kept its name as one reliable VPN service.

          Why resort to just our findings when we can seek advice from an industry expert? Hence, we asked a Business Consultant what they thought of PIA’s business structure, and of their overall opinion of Private Internet Access regarding its performance as a business:

          Business Expert Review and Rating of PIA’s Business-Wise Performance

          Alla Robert Aristakesyan
          Alla Robert Aristakesyan
          Business Consultant

          Based on the research I have conducted, it is assumed that Private Internet Access (PIA) has shown to have quite convincing performance as a business and has been rated as one of the world’s leading VPN service providers (as seen on Lifehacker, Business Insider, MSN Money, Torrentfreak, Kiplinger, and more). 

          Founded in 2010, by Andrew Lee and Steve DeProspero, PIA was acquired by Kape Technologies PLC for $95M on Nov 19, 2019 and has been one of Kape Technologies’ largest acquisitions and integrations to date. As stated in Kape Technologies’ 2020 Annual Report, the integration of PIA has exceeded Kape’s expectations and has shown a positive growth in different aspects, including customer reach, product extension, operational and R&D synergies, as well as brand awareness with US footprint. Kape Technologies reports that they were successful in improving the service that they provide to their customers whilst reducing the cost to serve, as a result of the technical strengths and economies of scale of the enlarged group. In the final quarter of 2020, the strength of combining Kape’s go-to-market technologies with PIA’s brand recognition began to come to fruition, with 93% growth achieved in cash revenue from new users in Q4 2020 compared with the same period in the prior year. Revenues for the year to 31 December 2020 increased by 85.0% to $122.2 million (2019: $66.1 million). The increase in revenues was driven by a full year contribution of PIA as well as 31% organic growth in the Digital Privacy segment. Following the completion of its acquisition in December 2019, PIA contributed $53.5 million of revenue in the period (2019: $2.5 million). The segment margin has increased to 58.8% (2019: 51.6%) driven mainly from higher margins on revenue generated by PIA. Adjusted EBITDA increased by 167.7% to $39.0 million (2019: $14.6 million). Operating profit increased by 158.5% to $10.7 million (2019: $4.1 million).

          It should be noted that while there is thorough information regarding the background of American entrepreneur Andrew Lee, who has interestingly found out he’s a descendant of the Joseon dynasty and was declared crown prince of Korea in 2018, there is no information about the PIA’s co-founder Steve DeProspero. However, the missing information is not significant and does not affect the overall business performance of the company. At the same time, the overall business rating of PIA is affected by publicly unavailable financial data of the PIA before its acquisition. 

          Based on my opinion as a business consultant I rate Private Internet Access VPN business 8 / 10.

            8
            8

            PIA’s Pricing: Long Commitments but Worthy Prices

            There are 3 kinds of people when it comes to choosing a VPN. The first kind always chooses a free VPN–they’re either not aware or don’t care about all types of trouble they’re welcoming when they’re signing up for free VPNs. The second kind has no worries about the price tag. They simply choose the most premium VPN available in the market and forget about it. And, lastly, the third kind which most of us avid VPN users fall to. We measure and compare all VPN features, bells & whistles we get or don’t get when we sign up–and most of all, what the VPN costs.

            We’re glad to say that the third kind warmly welcomes Private Internet Access as a viable choice thanks to its affordable charges on both monthly and yearly plans! What’s more? PIA even offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for all their platforms and even a 7-day free trial for Android, iOS platforms.

            If you’re wondering what this means and how it compares to other VPN services, this is what our Pricing expert had to say about PIA’s pricing strategy and offerings:

            Pricing Expert’s View of Private Internet Access

            Tamara Milacic
            Tamara Milacic
            Pricing Expert

            When analyzing Private Internet Access’s VPN pricing structure, the three tiered plans entice customers to sign up for the 3 year commitment with a 78% discount versus the monthly. This discount is carried through internationally with localized pricing. The inclusion of 3 tiers takes advantage of the Good-Better-Best principle and incentivizes at least the middle choice. The 3 year commitment is longer than some of its competitors offer but the pricing level is very competitive. Additionally this plan is called out specifically on the pricing page and highlighted in green as the best saver.

            In terms of messaging, PIA has an expected Pricing page in the top header, but its business pricing and plans page is harder to find. For business customers it’s not immediately obvious that they do offer specific subscriptions. Additionally, the business offers page just leads back to the main pricing page except for one link that leads to a separate checkout page with different plans. This customer journey in terms of pricing is not clean. A business bulk discount of 5% is offered and is not tiered on the basis of users or seats but goes up indefinitely. A grouping of most common user tiers for small-mid-large businesses would be useful and may result in more revenue.

            Strategically, PIA seem to be one of the price leaders in the market. Their 1 year plan in USD is more competitive than most of its competitors (NordVPN,IPVanish, Surfshark etc). However, in terms of messaging, they do not call out that they are the cheapest in the market via any price promise or value proposition statement. The strategy they project, with a focus on discounts with increased commitment, is undifferentiated and consistent with what’s already in the market. Further advantage could be taken of their market leading price levels. 

            In terms of pricing psychology, PIA place the most expensive monthly plan ($9.95) first and then the 3 year plan ($2.19), which takes advantage of anchoring strategy. Customers base their expectations on what they see first, seeing $9.95 first makes $2.19 seem very cheap by comparison. In terms of their customer proposition, they offer a 7 day trial and 30 day money back guarantee. However, the 7 day trial is only offered on iOS and not on the website and the 30 day money back guarantee requires calling customer service. 

            Based on my opinion as a pricing consultant I rate PIA VPN business 6 / 10.

              6
              6

              PIA’s Extras

              Not calling it a day providing just the essentials, PIA adds a range of extra VPN options into the bargain.

              Split Tunneling

              Split tunneling lets us choose specifically which applications we want our VPN connection to go through, and which apps shouldn’t. PIA readily provides this feature in all its desktop platforms*, Android, and all PIA browser extensions.

              *macOS users would be required to “approve this feature within their OS Security Preferences”.PIA Split Tunnel option in Setting window

              MACE

              How great would it be if our VPN provided an ad, tracker, and malware-related domain blocker along with its subscription? That’s exactly what PIA does through its MACE option conveniently bundled in with all their client apps and browser extensions, excluding iOS.

              Dark Mode

              Night owls are surely not overlooked when it comes to Private Internet Access. Because thankfully, a dark mode is an option we could expect to see in each and every client app and browser extension PIA brings out.

              Private Internet Access Pros and Cons

              Pros

              Cons

              A dedicated set of “Streaming Optimized” servers providing higher speeds and greater chances of successfully logging in
              and streaming content.
              Inconsistent streaming capabilities. Servers can either be blocked out by streaming platforms or bring inadequate speeds.
              10 devices can connect simultaneously through a single subscription. Hoard of options on client apps could look a bit daunting for the basic user.
              RAM-only operations throughout all PIA servers. Headquartered in the United States which is a part of the 5/9/14-Eyes alliance.
              Allows P2P connections and provides great torrenting speeds. Live chat can be absent or snail-paced when it is accessible.
              Validity of the no-logs policy proven multiple times in court cases. Guides could be outdated.
              A vast collection of security and privacy features.
              Dedicated IP option available (as an add-on to the VPN subscription).
              World-leading server count of 35000+ servers in 78 countries.
              Support portal with an active community and walkthrough guides.
              Affordable pricing on both monthly and yearly plans.

              Conclusion

              Keeping quite an inconsistent and fluctuating speed, Private Internet Access surely isn’t the most stable of all VPNs. Its network performance is unpredictable among its servers, feature support isn’t constant between its supported platforms, and its outdated articles & slow live chat could leave you hanging, unsure of how to proceed. But, leaving the cons aside, PIA is still a feasible choice thanks to its large array of RAM-only servers, proven no-logs policy, great feature collection including dedicated IP, and the platform’s affordability.

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