Whether you want to stream Netflix in a different region or protect your personal information while browsing the web, a VPN offers essential protection. While all the services available might look very similar, Private Internet Access (PIA) stands out from the competition for a few reasons.
PIA has some of the lowest prices around for both their monthly and yearly plans. They don’t offer a free plan or even a free trial period. However, they offer a 7-day refund window if you sign up and are not happy with the performance or features.
Whether you’re on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, or Linux, PIA offers apps to help keep your connection secure. You can also use browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. They even offer setup for routers and other devices.
One interesting thing to note, PIA’s browser extensions and iOS app are all open source. This means you can get a good look at what’s going on behind the scenes if you’re technologically inclined.
Ease of Use
Whether you’re using the desktop client or the app, it’s easy to get started with PIA. There’s a quick tutorial to guide you when you first launch it. Then you just need to choose your preferred server from the list of more than 3,000 services in around 30 countries.
Like other VPNs, PIA lets you connect up to 5 different devices. Or, if you’d prefer to connect your entire home network at once, you can set up PIA on any router running DD-WRT, Tomato, or pfSense.
- Kill switch on desktop, iOS, and Android apps
- Block location access, third-party cookies, website referrers, and more with Chrome extensions
- IPv6 blocking to prevent DNS leaks
- Extra security with data encryption and authentication
- P2P support
While all of these features are useful, some reviewers complain that it feels more like a grab bag of security features rather than a cohesive set.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for many is its lack of obfuscated servers for Android. These servers mask your VPN use and make it look like regular internet activity. Without obsfucation, you won’t be able to get around limitations when traveling in countries with restricted Internet laws.
Privacy and Logging
As with other high-end VPN services, PIA uses OpenVPN for desktop and mobile devices. If it can’t connect, it uses L2TP/IPSec as a fall-back.
While L2TP isn’t as secure as OpenVPN, it provides enough security -- especially when compared to connecting to public Wi-Fi with nothing.
By default, PIA uses AES-128 encryption but you can change this to AES-256 for additional security. There’s also SHA1 and SHA256 authentication and RSA-2048 handshaking -- though you can increase this to RSA-4096. The number of options available surprised reviewers.
Tom’s Guide states, “No other VPN we’ve tested allows this level of customization.”
In terms of logging, Private Internet Access states “[We] absolutely do not keep any logs, of any kind, period... We can unequivocally state that our company has not and still does not maintain metadata logs regarding when a subscriber accesses the VPN service…”
However, the company is based in the US. This means its subject to US jurisdiction laws. While this might be a hard sell for some, PIA seems to know this as they post court documents showing the only data the company provided in court was general location of server IPs.
PIA impressed reviewers with many noting they offer fast connection speeds to servers and fast transfer speeds. As expected, latency increased with distance but reviewers had no issues otherwise. If you run into problems with a server, there are 3000 others to choose from.
Unfortunately, PIA provides mixed results when accessing popular streaming services like Netflix from outside their normal access areas.
Although they don’t have a live chat feature, you can email customer support when you have a question. PIA promises a response in 6 hours. When tested, critics generally received responses in under 2 hours.
Besides email, PIA offers detailed documentation on their site.
While it’s not without its faults, Private Internet Access provides good privacy features at a low price.
With that said, PC Mag notes, “... [PIA] is easy to recommend, but only with an asterisk… it’s incredibly robust with powerful tools… it also has a strong privacy stance… but it’s also stripped to the bone in terms of interface.”