PrivateInternetAccess, or PIA, is an open-source VPN that’s been making the rounds since 2010 and is still going strong today. Does it hold up against some of the more popular VPNs on the market, or the others that we’ve reviewed?
We’re going to investigate this VPN, and give you the low-down so you can decide whether this is the service for you.
All About PrivateInternetAccess
PrivateInternetAccess is functionally sound, but by no means a perfect VPN. It’s not quite as marketing-heavy as VPNs like NordVPN and Surfshark, but it still manages to be pretty popular outside of those powerhouses.
Its lengthy name—which we’ll refer to as PIA from now on—is to the point, as the company’s privacy commitment is one of its most renowned features. It’s also known for having a no-logs policy which we’ll discuss later in the article.
From what we’ve heard before diving into the investigation, PIA is a highly trustworthy VPN. Users are satisfied with the service, enjoy the security of it, and praise its fair plans. There are some downsides but they’re tolerable—we plan to get into them later, though.
Where Is PIA Based?
One of those downsides is that PIA is based in the US. Don’t let this put you off of PIA Australia—hear the company out, okay? PIA being based in the US benefits Australian readers who’d prefer a non-home-based VPN already. The second benefit is that companies in the US are often easy to do business with and offer transparent services.
There’s so much competition in the US that brands make their policies and practices well known—they want to be seen as the best, most honest company around. That’s an asset when shopping around for a VPN company. You don’t want a service with secrets.
Now, the downside of this honesty is that companies have to be transparent with their higher-ups too. If law enforcement or government officials ask PIA for your logs or data, PIA is legally obligated to hand your stuff over on a shiny, silver platter.
The good news is, PIA’s platters are empty. On two separate occasions (2015 and 2017) the US government came after PIA, demanding data and logs. Both times they left empty-handed, PIA had nothing to give. Many VPN companies have no-log policies and could easily be lying, but based on these events, we’re sure PIA is telling the truth.
PIA and Third-Party Audits
As far as is public knowledge, PIA hasn’t undergone any third-party audits. This has frustrated users for years, with many taking to Reddit and other areas online to ask the community and team why there have been no audits, and when they’re coming.
In 2018, a Reddit comment by a now-deleted user explained that PIA has no immediate plans for a third-party audit. Based on the comment’s content we can assume it was made by PIA personnel. However, in late 2019 the company announced plans for an audit on this blog post but as of late February 2021 have yet to follow through.
Two days before the time of writing, a Reddit user posted, once again, about PIA and third-party audits. The user contacted PIA directly and asked about third-party audits. You can read the full post and PIA’s answers here, but read below for a snippet of PIA’s response.
“The PIA VPN client is open-sourced. This means that all our customers, technical reviewers, or auditors can directly check our apps’ code from our repositories. We offer full transparency, and we guarantee our customers’ overall security inside the PIA ecosystem.”
The Bright Side
We aren’t all technical geniuses—most customers will have no idea about how to read or check PIA’s code. Thankfully the PIA customer support team had this to say:
“It has been proved through court hearings that we don’t log. Please look at this article.”
This should be enough for you to trust the company, along with the lack of data given in 2015 and 2017 when it was requested of the company. Many users are satisfied with this response and those incidents as evidence—but there are a few still frustrated at the lack of audits.
We fully believe that your information is safe and secure, and not logged, with PIA. So with that out of the way, we can move on to examining other things for those of you who are still interested in this VPN.
What Are PIA’s Best Features
If you find PIA’s privacy and integrity acceptable, then you’d better check out these features before you dive in. While it’s not bad at all, there are a few aspects that some users may not like. Spoiler alert: it’s the speeds.
When it comes to security, PIA doesn’t disappoint. You can expect:
- No DNS leaks.
- Hidden IP address.
- IPV6 leak prevention.
- No IP leaks.
- Data encryption.
- A firewall.
After running tests on these, users found they had no leaks and that the promises above held true. The company achieves this via AES 128-bit encryption, which is the default setting. You can go in and get better protection yourself though.
There’s an easy settings interface that lets you change your encryption to AES 256-bit, but you also get to choose how your data is encrypted. Options include:
- WireGuard, the latest in data security.
On iOS, you don’t have these choices and the app instead uses IPSec with a WireGuard option. So, as you can see, the security is solid and selectable so both novice and more advanced users are well-protected. There’s nothing wrong with the default settings, the changeability just makes things better and better.
PIA’s speeds aren’t great. They’re not terrible either, but it’s the inconsistency that bugs us. Users report that speeds are fine one day but the next they’re dragging themselves along the ground with one arm.
This is quite unusual considering the gargantuan number of servers the VPN has. Having more servers means the users are spread out across them, most of the time, and therefore crowding isn’t slowing down the servers and connections.
Users experienced a variety of speeds, some abysmal, with PIA, which we’re going to get into in one user’s speed test.
Close To Home
One user started with a pretty high speed of around 70 Mbps. The user then connected PIA to a server in their home country and the results were disappointing. First of all, the speed dropped to the mid-30s.
Mid-30s isn’t bad. You can stream on that. You can download, you can torrent. It’s more of a drop than with some other VPNs, but it’s okay!
Until, a few minutes later, the user’s speed dropped further and was under 20 Mbps. This inconsistency isn’t acceptable—that speed drop is the difference between watching a YouTube video in HD, then the quality suddenly dropping because your internet can’t handle the top resolution. It’s incredibly annoying.
This incident wasn’t just on this one near-home server, though. It showed up on all of them. We won’t bore you with the details of the inconsistencies, but we’ll showcase more of the unpleasant speeds PIA provides.
The user later connected to a country half a world away, in the UK. The speeds were pretty good at first—only 12 Mbps less than their unconnected speed. The user was very pleased with this speed, as anyone would be, but then again it didn’t last.
Closer To Home
Jumping back to one of the countries closest to home, halfway around the world from the UK, the speeds were good too. The connection was slightly lower than when connected to the UK but it wasn’t bad at all, in the low 50s.
Unfortunately, the UK and the near-home locations were just fantastic anomalies in a sea of sluggish speeds.
Jumping back across the world to Eastern Europe, the user’s speeds were slightly under 20 Mbps. This was on the low end of acceptable and you can still do plenty with these speeds, but downloads will be slower and streams take a while to load before they start.
Venturing to Asia put the user’s speeds at under 10 Mbps. In our experience, this is where speeds tend to make streaming difficult and downloading agonizing. For example, a download that takes a few seconds at 70 Mbps can take an hour or more at 10.
While Netflix works at this speed, it takes a long time to load before it does. YouTube videos pause and buffer often, and watching live streams on broadcasting platforms like Twitch becomes impossible.
On top of everything above, other users had very different results, some worse and others superior. The speeds with this VPN appear to be highly inconsistent, so you never know what you’re getting.
Ad and Malware Block
Ads are nightmares, even when personalized. Thankfully, PIA blocks ads—and all the malware that can show up in some ads, or in downloads.
Having a decent ad-block is essential if you want a clean and easy browsing experience. It won’t get rid of ads on paid apps like Spotify but it’ll do the job on YouTube and hopefully on those ad-packed blogs that show you more commercial content than useful copy.
A strong protection plan against malware is even more vital and PIA gets you started off right. Please note that PIA and any other VPN service isn’t a substitute for a strong anti-virus program, or several if you want as much protection as you can get. You can never be too careful!
A kill switch is another essential part of any VPN. VPN connections aren’t perfect and sometimes they drop, leaving your IP, DNS and more data available for hackers to feast on.
With a kill switch, you don’t have to worry. Your VPN connection drops? So does your WiFi. When the VPN connection is back up it automatically restores your internet service and you can get back to browsing.
Though, this feature can be a pain if you’re using Google Docs or playing an online game and the connection drops mid-save, or mid-quest or something. This is why you should always be wary when using a VPN, and consider switching the kill switch feature off when doing something similar to these scenarios.
With that said, try to keep such activities in your home, where hackers are less likely to be digging for your dirt. We recommend that you never turn off the kill switch feature in public or at work, though. If you have to use GDocs at work and worry your connection will drop, ensure offline sync is switched on.
Is customer service considered a feature of a VPN? Probably not, but we feel that customer service is a huge part of your experience with any product or service.
Here’s another place where PIA meets its downfall. Like its speeds, PIA’s customer service just isn’t very good. Dozens of users report disappointment with customer service, so good luck if you face any issues while using PIA.
PIA and Browser Extensions
Sometimes you can’t download a program for your VPN. Perhaps your computer memory is too clogged up or your GPU can’t handle it. That’s fine, luckily PIA has Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions. As usual, Microsoft Edge is left out here but the main trio is covered. Less popular browsers like Brave and Tor are also left out.
Browser extensions are great for quick switching of your location, but only in-browser. Let’s say you’re enjoying listening to Spotify US while in Australia, but need to pop back home to visit a local website. Just switch your VPN on in the browser—Chrome thinks you’re in Adelaide, but Spotify is convinced you’re somewhere in Nebraska!
How Many Servers Does PIA Have?
We mentioned earlier that PIA has lots of servers—more than we’ve ever seen a VPN offer. PIA has over 29,000 servers in 75 countries. Let’s compare this to one of the leading VPNs, NordVPN, which only has over 5,000. It’s hardly comparable.
This whopping number of servers means you can connect to almost any country in the world to unblock websites and streaming services. The sheer quantity of servers is an asset when unblocking these sites, as they’re very unlikely to notice you’re using a VPN based on this.
Some VPNs fail when too many users share an IP and connect to a popular website. The site figures out the IP is from a VPN, and that’s that. But with 29,000 servers? It’s highly unlikely that most of the user base avails of one server within this bulk all at once. You’re pretty safe.
PIA and Streaming
With this magnificent array of servers, surely PIA unblocks every streaming service under the sun! Well, yes and no. There are better VPNs for streaming but don’t count PIA out just yet.
Netflix is one that cracks down on VPNs hard and often detects even the best VPN services there are. PIA isn’t one of them, in most locations.
If you have a VPN for security and not streaming, then you’re safe. You can still access your home country’s content while connected to a local server for security and privacy.
We’ve found no reports of testers stating they couldn’t access US Netflix. People have tried accessing US Netflix on a variety of US servers and faced no problems, leading us to believe that most, if not all, US servers are Netflix-ready.
Nearby servers like Canada also work, but Mexican Netflix detects your proxy and blocks you out until you disconnect.
In the UK it’s the same story as the US. Connect to a UK server and you should have no problem accessing UK Netflix.
If EU Netflix is more your thing, one country that it solidly unblocks is Denmark. Access the Danish library all you want, and enjoy your shows with a side of Danish pastries.
Unfortunately, users had no luck connecting to other countries in Europe.
Japan is a funny one. Some users found PIA unblocks Netflix in Japan, where others say it doesn’t. It may depend on what server you use, and it seems to be variable.
Our advice is that you keep trying if you fail to unblock Japan’s Netflix, keep trying and change your server, but don’t get your hopes up. Come back another day and try again if you continually fail in one sitting.
PIA is more consistent with other subscription services. You can unblock:
- BBC iPlayer.
- Amazon Prime Video.
All that’s missing there is HBO Max, and possibly the newer service BritBox available only in the UK and the US.
We would like to warn you about one of the services—Amazon Prime Video. Though PIA unblocks it, you’ll need a US or UK Amazon Prime subscription to access Amazon Prime Video in those locations. You’ll need a subscription for whatever location you’re trying to unblock, but those two are the most popular.
Torrenting With PIA: Is It Allowed?
Yes, torrenting is allowed with PIA. You’ll remain secure and your information stays private during your torrenting endeavors—neither your ISP or PIA will know who you are or what you’re up to.
However, both Australia and the US where PIA is based have strict copyright laws. So, while you’re not getting caught, you are most likely breaking the law if you’re torrenting—whoever heard of someone torrenting non-copyrighted content?
Please be discrete, cautious and don’t torrent for commercial use. Torrent and watch your shows and movies, but keep the files to yourself afterward!
Simultaneous Connections and PIA
PIA allows 10 simultaneous connections with one plan. This is fantastic as you can give your login details to a family member or close friend, unless you’re super-techy and somehow own 10 devices that you can use PIA on at once.
Be careful with giving your login info, though, as your family member/friend may have the same idea and want to share the info with someone else. Be strict about the other party’s use. For the best results, share your PIA subscription with a partner. That way you can split the price and use the service and it’s a couples’ thing.
Is There a Free Trial of PIA?
Unfortunately, there’s no way for you or your PIA-sharing loved ones to get a taste of PIA before you dive in. There’s no free trial or tier to the service.
However, all hope isn’t lost. PIA offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you dislike the service or you find it doesn’t benefit you as you thought it would, then you can get a refund within your first month with no questions asked and no hard feelings.
The lack of free trial and free tier designate PIA as one of the more disappointing VPNs in that regard, as many others we’ve reviewed do offer this. The 30-day guarantee is pretty standard, though, so it’s nothing to look down on.
PIA’s Subscription Plans
Once you’re ready to invest, there are three subscription plans you can avail of. Note that prices are in US dollars as PIA is a US-based company.
We don’t always have big sums to drop on a service, living month to month financially. Or sometimes we’re just a bit too enthusiastic and spend too much to save smartly.
Those are the types of people we’d recommend PIA’s monthly subscription to as there’s not as much value in it otherwise.
You can pay $11.95 a month, which is a medium price for a VPN, or you can check out one of the offers below for a much more value-packed subscription.
For a yearly subscription, PIA is $3.33 a month. This is paid upfront as a fee of $39.96. You’re saving yourself a whole $103.44 for the same service, and this is refundable within 30 days if you’re not satisfied.
If you’re really ready to commit and you want the most value you can get, the two-yearly plan is $2.69 a month. This is fantastic when compared to several competitors, so we have no complaints and don’t doubt the VPNs value here.
It’s reasonably priced for the features it offers—despite the speed issue. We feel the number of servers make up for the failing speeds.
Keep in mind that this tier will be paid upfront as $32.28.
PIA: A Summary
PrivateInternetAccess is a reasonably priced and highly secure VPN with incredible, if slightly inconsistent, unlocking abilities. It’s nothing to turn your nose up at, although the speeds may frustrate you.
It’s loaded with advanced security features that privacy-concerned users may like, and its money-back guarantee makes it a worry-free investment.
Despite these upsides, not everyone will like PIA and those speeds really are a letdown. Let’s look at a few alternatives that fill in the gaps that PIA chisels out.
Best Alternatives to PrivateInternetAccess
The alternatives below each have at least one advantage over PIA. The prices are in US dollars. All non-single-monthly plans are paid upfront in a lump sum covering the entire per-month cost of the plan.
NordVPN—Unlock More Netflix
If you want to watch Netflix on a more global scale, we recommend NordVPN. It’s slightly pricier than PIA, but you’ll have more unblocking consistency and better speeds for watching, too.
- Monthly: $11.95.
- Yearly: $4.92/month.
- Two-yearly: $3.71/month.
Hotspot Shield—Best Speeds
If you want the best speeds on the market, Hotspot Shield is the way to go. It’s a bit pricey and has a few flaws like security concerns, but if you’re streaming-focused it’s what we recommend.
- Monthly: $12.99.
- Monthly family: $19.99.
- Yearly: $7.99/month.
- Yearly family: $11.99/month.
Surfshark—Great Speeds, Fairer Price
If you want fantastic speeds but a more cost-effective VPN than Hotspot, go with Surfshark. Once every few days or weeks you’ll have a moment where it disconnects you based on terrible speeds, but reconnect and you’re back up there fast.
Surfshark’s speeds are very similar to your starting speed and it unblocks everything except Amazon Prime Video.
- Monthly: $12.95.
- 6-monthly: $6.49/month.
- Yearly: $2.49/month.
If you want a VPN with a free version, Windscribe is excellent. Its free version unlocks US and UK Netflix, with tolerable speeds. Subscribe for better speeds, though. The free version gets you 10GB of data a month.
- Monthly: $9.
- Yearly: $4.08/month.
- Build a plan: $1 per location per month, billed monthly.
PIA: The Bottom Line
Would we shy away from recommending PIA to someone? It depends. If the user is very into streaming, probably—we’d recommend NordVPN, Windscribe or Hotspot Shield for that. We also wouldn’t recommend PIA to someone who thrives on a good customer service experience.
For security? While PIA doesn’t have the most variable security protocols, nor the strongest, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the service. Users found no issues with leaks, and the changeable encryption protocols are nothing to scoff at either.
Lastly, we enjoy how the bigshots demanded data from PIA but PIA failed to deliver on two occasions. Not only is your information safe from hackers, but it appears to be safe from company logging and outside parties looking in, too.