PIA VPN (2021) Review guide
Are you looking for a new Private Internet Access VPN review? That’s logical, the last couple of years these services have gained enormous popularity, almost 30% of the internet users has been using VPN services over the past 5 years. We at Globalwatchonline.com tested and tried all different providers for you, read our comprehensive PIA VPNreview and learn everything about this service, we are sure that once you’re done reading you will know if this provider suits you.
Who and what is Private Internet Access?
PIA is well-known VPN service, but how does it stack up against other popular VPN services? In order to find out, I decided to purchase their monthly plan and tried them out. Private Internet Access (PIA) is probably the most popular VPN on the market today.
- It was started by London Trust Media, INC. back in August 2010. Despite being one of the cheapest VPNs, and having thousands of users, is it good enough for serious use? In this review, we tested PIA server network performance, usability of their VPN app as well as the technology behind their VPN service (OpenVPN + 128-bit encryption).
- True to its name, this provider is best known for its strict no-logs policy and commitment to user privacy. It’s not one of the cheapest solutions though, but it ranks high on the best VPN list of 2021.
Is PIA truly as trustworthy as they claim when it comes to protecting user privacy and anonymity? How does it perform in other categories like streaming, torrenting, and safety? We tested PIA ourselves to find out, and the results are in. Some of the highlights of PIA’s VPN service include its user-friendly interface, robust security, anonymous torrenting, and support for 10 simultaneous devices. Downsides include variable speeds and inconsistent ability to access popular streaming sites like Netflix, Kodi or Hulu.
What are the advantages and pro’s?
- No-logging policy
- Unlimited bandwidth and usage
- Up to 10 simultaneous connections
- Numerous features, including kill switch, Ipv6 leak protection, ad blocker, P2P support
- Over 35,550+ servers in 78 countries worldwide
- User-friendly interface
Table of Contents
Private Internet Access Is One Of The Fastest
One of the most important factors of a VPN is their download speed. If you’re signing up with a slow (read: bad VPN), you’ll end up with ridiculously slow speed. We’ve faced that several times, especially when I tested speed in StrongVPN and Mullvad (both were below 20 Mbps out of 100). However, things with Private Internet Access look quite good actually. As always, to make our PIA review accurate, I went to speedtest.net and put the following locations to the test: US, EU, Asia, and the UK. The location I used to track the speed was in the middle of Europe: Amsterdam
US Server (New York)
- Ping: 118ms
- Download: 77.56 Mbps
- Upload: 36.75 Mbps
EU Server (Amsterdam)
- Ping: 41ms
- Download: 81.46 Mbps
- Upload: 40.30 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
- Ping: 283ms
- Download: 69.98 Mbps
- Upload: 13.04 Mbps
UK Server (London)
- Ping: 48ms
- Download: 75.67 Mbps
- Upload: 23.00 Mbps
In conclusion – PIA is pretty fast VPN. Not as fast as NordVPN or ExpressVPN, but surely an “OK” alternative as it’s cheaper. Keep in mind, speed is an important factor and is vastly connected with the VPN software you’re using. Of course, there are some ways to speed up a VPN connection, but the main strength comes from the actual VPN servers.
PIA Claims No Logging
‘Logging’ is a practice used to monitor and record data points from your VPN activity. For example, your internet service provider (ISP) will log which websites you access along with your personal information used to connect (like email or ISP). And they can actually sell that data. Some VPN providers will log certain details, like when you log in or sign off, in order to monitor their usage to improve service. PIA has a no logging policy that will not track or monitor traffic logs, or communication logs.
However, it does track some information, such as:
- Your email address
- Payment data
- Clients who opt to use the optional control panel will receive a temporary cookie
No Leaks Detected
Private Internet Access is located within the United States, a founding member of the Five Eyes Surveillance Alliance. Not ideal right off the bat. If they were to get their grubby hands on your data, it would end up in government databases all around the world. Thankfully though, this is a system without leaks, which greatly hinders the government’s ability to spy on your browsing activity. As you can see in the results below, PIA passed all of our tests, both to detect the presence of leaks and to ensure that their installation software was 100% clean.
Solid Encryption & Great Features
In addition to important features, such as:
- Anonymous IP
- Ability to torrent
- Kill-Switch (but people have complained about it)
- 10 simultaneous connection
- Total servers: 3300+
- Total countries: 32 (last verified on 28th of May, 2019)
PIA also has several different levels of encryption: The default settings use 128-bit encryption on your data, which is good, but not the best. However, you can step up your data encryption to 256-bit, which is the industry standard, and will give you a very secure connection (it will slow everything down a bit, though).
- You can also choose the level of encryption on both your data authentication and your handshake. Both of these help your computer and the server verify the authenticity of the connection and the data being transmitted. The default settings are for SHA1 and RSA-2048, a 2,048-bit encryption key. That’s very difficult to break.
- You can go all the way up to RSA-4096, though, and double the size of the data authentication key with SHA256. Again, I recommend using the maximum settings so you get the best security possible. But if you really need extra speed, you could consider using the default recommendation.
And while the Risky Business setting might seem like a good idea if you need extra speed for torrenting or streaming, we’d really recommend against it. There’s probably not anyone trying to break your VPN encryption… but why risk it?
Specialized in Torrenting
If you’re looking for a VPN that won’t restrict your torrenting, PIA is a solid choice. They don’t restrict or monitor any connections, and that includes peer-to-peer file sharing. You can use any torrenting client you like to download whatever you want, secure in the knowledge that your account won’t be blocked or your connection throttled. While Private Internet Access’s website doesn’t specifically say that the company supports torrenting, they do say that P2P is supported. So that’s something. But the VPN has developed a reputation for being torrent-friendly, so people recognize them as being a solid choice for file sharing.
One of The Oldest and Known VPN Providers
In the VPN world, it means a lot to have a reputation. And Private Internet Access has one of the best reputations in the business. They’ve been around since 2010, and they’ve provided reliable service ever since. In late 2017, they won the award for Most Stable VPN, which means a lot. Was it sponsored or not? Hard to tell. They’ve also received multiple editor’s choice award, but we can never know if they were compensated by PIA or not.
- The VPN shows up in a lot of best and fastest VPN lists, and there haven’t been any serious questions about their commitment to privacy (though they’re based in the US, which can be problematic; keep reading and we’ll discuss that momentarily).
Being in business for almost 20 years is definitely a sign of prestige in the VPN world. PIA’s reputation and longevity make it a very safe choice. The company also supports many organizations that are making the internet a better place, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, Blender, Inkscape, Gnome, and the Software Freedom Conservancy.
Decent Device Compatibility
PIA supports most popular platforms. That includes Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and Firefox. They also have browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. They also support routers, technically speaking. But that will require some manual setup through OpenVPN. Not a huge fan of the extra labor. However, it does mean they’re compatible with DD-WRT, Lede, Merlin, PFSense, Tomato, and ASUSWRT routers. Plus, you can then connect both smart TVs and game consoles to those specific VPN routers. So there’s your light at the end of the tunnel.
One Out of Five Servers Worked for Netflix
PIA’s support forums confirm that they’ve been working diligently for years to find ways around Netflix’s detection. How have they fared? We tested four of their servers and saw the same dreaded black screen:
Those four losers included:
- United States: New York
- United Kingdom
However, we did get a successful one in Sunny California. Believe it or not, one out of four is pretty good these days. Especially when the majority of VPNs don’t even try to work with streaming services anymore. Do some more research into good Netflix VPN’s or check out guides about Kodi VPN providers.
Private Internet Access Cons
The Limited Live Chat Support is a con, although PIA offers “24/7 North American” support. They only offer a live chat option for paying customers, which is kinda bad if you want to inquire about their services. I think that means their support personnel is located in North America. Seeing as the whole “24/7” thing means they should always be available (no matter where you’re located).
- However, when I contacted them through a middle of the night, I got a response at next morning. Not so 24/7 anymore, huh? On a positive side, they also provide a separate Twitter account dedicated to customer service. I took a look at that network to see how they interact with customers.
The good news is that they will still try to provide long, detailed answers (despite Twitter’s condensed medium). Furthermore, they have a FAQ page which might help some of you:
Located in The US, This Can Be A Problem
Private Internet Access is based in the United States, and that’s problematic for many people. The US has some of strictest, most privacy-invading surveillance laws in the developed world, and that applies to VPN providers.
- The government has been known to pressure VPNs to give up user data with secret warrants, and that worries privacy advocates.
- Of course, the fact that PIA doesn’t keep logs means that they have very little to share with the authorities if they come knocking. But the fact is that they may not have a choice; if they have any data about you at all (such as whether you’re a customer or how long you’ve been one), they may be forced to hand it over.
- Should that worry you? Maybe, and maybe not. There are rumors that the NSA has been able to break the encryption on some VPNs, which means the government could be snooping on your connection.
If you’re using the maximum security recommendations, that’s less likely. Because of the combination of surveillance laws and intelligence-sharing agreements in the US, I tend to avoid VPNs based there. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely necessary for everyone.
PIA has a single plan with tiered pricing based on the length you’d like to commit and prepay. That keeps things nice and simple. And you can also get a great deal if you’re ready to shell out a single year in advance.
- $5.99/mo ($71.88 per year)
- 2 years
- $3.49/mo ($83.87 per 2 years)
Can You Easily Buy Private Internet Access?
They offer a 7-day money back guarantee. So you can give the service a spin over the course of a few days. If you’re unhappy at all during those seven days, you can simply get your money back. Interestingly, PIA accepts all kinds of different methods of payment from credit cards to PayPal & they’ll also accept Bitcoin (which could also help you add another layer of privacy to the transaction).
Even better way to mask behind your identity?
- No logging: No activity logs, only payment and email information.
- Ease of the VPN software: Simple and smooth, installation file was over 60mb though.
- Upsells: No upsells.
- Instant access after payment: Yes.
- DNS leaks: Protection is built in (though you should always test it yourself).
- Jurisdiction: United States
- Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/L2TP, PPTP, Socks5 proxy.
- Kill-switch: Mixed reviews. Users can enable or disable it, and some have found that it doesn’t work as consistently as they like (I recommend testing it yourself).
Do We Recommend Private Internet Access?
PIA is a user-friendly VPN with robust security features that are easy to configure to meet your preferences. The VPN performs well when it comes to security and anonymity, but inconsistent speeds and shaky geo-spoofing abilities mean that PIA isn’t the best choice for streaming. We also weren’t very impressed with PIA’s customer support. Despite its downsides, PIA still has a lot to offer at an affordable price.
- PIA offers excellent coverage in North America and Europe, with tons of servers centrally located. That coverage isn’t as great in other parts of the world, however, with only a few servers spread around the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and a single, lonely one in Brazil for South American users.
- PIA has all major protocols available, along with state-of-the-art encryption methods. Their annual pricing is among the lowest in the industry. And they’ve got a seven-day money back guarantee if you’d like to try them out.
- No general live chat support and company located in the US.
- User-friendly, affordable, and privacy-friendly, but has some downsides
Does PIA Offer Split Tunneling?
PIA offers even more freedom over your online activity by offering split tunneling on its desktop apps. This convenient feature allows you to decide which apps will access the internet directly and which will pass through the VPN first. With split tunneling, you can use PIA to protect your banking data or be safe while torrenting, all while streaming or web browsing outside the encrypted VPN tunnel on the same device. To activate split tunneling, just click the Network tab, click App Exclusions, and add the programs you want to bypass the VPN.
Does PIA Keep Logs?
There is one thing that categorically impressed us: PIA really keeps to its no-log policy. PIA is based in the US and therefore is required to comply with US laws and demands. This means that if the government requests information from PIA, then PIA is required by law to hand over any relevant data that they have collected. Because of its US headquarters, PIA also falls under the jurisdiction of the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance, which should make privacy lovers nervous.
Does PIA Have an Adblocker?
PIA’s VPN service includes adblocking as part of their MACE feature, which can be easily turned on in the settings. We were able to stream without annoying pop-ups thanks to PIA’s MACE feature. The MACE feature blocks adware, tracking, and malware whenever the VPN is enabled. It is available on Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux, but currently not iOS. We tested PIA’s adblocker on several websites that are normally filled with advertisements. The MACE feature was able to successfully block all of the ads that we encountered.
Does PIA Work in China?
Bypassing the Great Firewall of China is so challenging that many VPNs won’t function within the country. Unfortunately, PIA is not currently able to offer reliable connections to customers in China. Some users in China have success with PIA using the less secure but harder to detect L2TP protocol. However, even this is not guaranteed. While you might get lucky, we don’t recommend choosing PIA specifically for use in China.