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Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most affordable and well-known VPNs out there. The consistent quality of this service has kept it popular for ages now. But just how good is it?
In this Private Internet Access review, I’ll go through security features, speed, apps, pricing, and support. What is more, I’ll answer the question nagging many around the world: does PIA unblock Netflix US?
Keep reading to see whether to invest in the product or look further.
Security and privacy features
PIA has reliable security features. They may not be super-advanced or numerous, but they’re all most users will ever need.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
PIA uses strong encryption – namely, AES-128 and AES-256. The app offers more cryptographic choices than are commonly available: you can pick your level of data encryption, the handshake, and the authentication standard.
The primary tunneling protocol used by PIA apps is OpenVPN, but the service also offers the mobile-friendly IKEv2.
Private Internet Access has a great kill switch – an important feature to protect from any unexpected connection disruptions. This is bolstered through the use of their private DNS to avoid leaking.
In addition to the VPN, there are also PIA proxy services in the form of the Chrome/Firefox extensions, as well as SOCKS5 and Shadowsocks proxies. The latter is awesome in heavy censorship countries, like China.
You can find them in the Settings:
IP and DNS leaks
To see if there are any IP or DNS leaks, it’s best to run a test online.
First of all, I connected to Mexico and was assigned the IP address 188.8.131.52.
After that I checked if my IP address or DNS queries were leaking:
As you can see, the IP addresses match, which means there is no IP leak.
PIA is operated by London Trust Media that is based in the US. This country one of the most problematic places to register a VPN company.
There are many reasons for this – the legal climate with legislation such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), government surveillance, including by the NSA, corporate surveillance by tech and telecommunications companies, and so on.
If that’s not enough, the US is part of the Five Eyes country group (and the extended Fourteen Eyes country group) – a robust intelligence-sharing framework.
In short, PIA gives adequate privacy for the casual user. Just don’t use it to plan any military coups.
Private Internet Access has a clear no-logging policy. This was proven in a US court case in 2015, and several more recent cases where PIA personnel were called to testify and couldn’t produce anything useful to the prosecution.
This should be reassuring to anyone seeking online privacy – you can be certain that not even PIA knows what you’re doing online.
What I like about PIA it’s vast options for anonymous purchase.
You can pay anonymously with many major brand gift cards: including, Fully Anonymous, Instant Access, 100% Secure Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, and many more.
Additionally, there are plenty of cryptocurrency options as well. These include Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, and Zcash. That’s more than enough opportunity to keep Private Internet Access off your balance sheet.
Other technical features
In August of 2019, Private Internet Access announced a new feature – the Handshake Naming System (HNS). To put it in simple terms, the HNS is a blockchain alternative for the Domain Name System (DNS).
HNS completely decentralizes the domain name system and creates an additional layer of privacy for users. According to PIA, it also works as a tool against DNS-level blocking (something governments use to ban websites and online services).
The HNS is definitely good and will be appreciated by power users. However, its usefulness for common folk is exaggerated. It is no more effective for bypassing DNS blocking than regular PIA DNS servers.
The only exceptions to this rule are marginal cases, and certainly not the blocking of websites like Facebook.
Connection speeds depend on location. Due to this, no average speed test in the world can give you a good answer to the question, “how fast is this VPN for me?”
In this particular case, you’re most likely to feel the negative effects of PIA server distribution if you’re based in Asia (including the Middle East), Africa, or even South America – most servers are not based in these locations.
If you are in Europe or North America – you’re in luck. A large chunk of PIA’s 3200+ server list is located in these regions.
To see how fast PIA is, I ran speed tests.
I started the test with no VPN on:
Then I compared the speed with the speeds across the globe:
- Download: 106.63 Mbps (64% drop-off)
- Upload: 205.55 Mbps (21% drop-off)
- Ping: 46
US, New York
- Download: 95.37 Mbps (67% drop-off)
- Upload: 66.38 Mbps (75% drop-off)
- Ping: 122
- Download: 8.90 Mbps (97% drop-off)
- Upload: 147.85 Mbps (43% drop-off)
- Ping: 319
As you can tell, PIA’s speeds are reasonable. Of course, there are VPNs on the market that offer higher speeds, but the results you get from this affordable VPN are not bad.
Does Private Internet Access support my device?
There are custom apps for all main platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. There’s no Private Internet Access router app at the moment, but you can still run PIA VPN on router devices if you follow the instructions on their site.
Private Internet Access desktop apps
To get your Private Internet Access account, go to the PIA website and click the carrot-colored GET STARTED NOW button.
You’ll be asked to choose one of three pricing plans, select a payment method, and make the payment. Then you’ll create an account and receive an email with your username and password. Enter these into the Private Internet Access login screen when the app starts.
Installing PIA is a no-brainer. You’ll have to:
- Run the installer from your browser or your Downloads directory.
- Choose a language for the installation.
- Allow the installer to make changes to your device (click Yes when prompted).
- Follow the installation wizard – it will install the client and the TAP driver.
- Click “Finish.”
The Private Internet Access Windows 10 version is the one I’ll look at. PIA has recently launched a new app – it’s elegant, simplistic, and has some security benefits over the old one.
When you run the app, it will greet you with a screen offering to Log In or take a Quick Tour.
Enter your credentials into the login screen. Once you have, you’ll see a simple home screen where you can click the large Connect button, choose the server, or enter the Settings screen (button in the top right).
The server choice screen lets you choose by name of latency (ping). You can expand or minimize the location lists in various countries. There are no fireworks, but the menu is easy to use and self-explanatory.
The PIA Settings screen is a change from the old version, where everything was crammed into one long list of settings. Here you will see choices divided by function:
- Privacy Preferences lets you customize the kill switch and toggle PIA MACE, which is an excellent security feature combining an ad blocker, tracker blocker, and malware shield.
- Network Preferences lets you choose DNS servers, Request Port Forwarding (useful for seeding torrents or remote desktop connections), and toggle whether to allow LAN Traffic.
- Connection Preferences offers to choose the tunneling protocol (Connection Type), Remote/Local Port, as well as cipher settings. A feature that is almost unique to PIA is the option to use Small Packets, which should improve the experience for users who has connection stability issues.
Ultimately, this constitutes a good set of features, although power users may miss server information or stealth features for use in censorship-heavy countries.
Private Internet Access mobile apps
Both Android and iOS versions have mainly the same features as the desktop ones.
Once you log in you’re headed to this screen:
In the Settings, you will be able to access the kill switch, choose where to connect using OpenVPN or, IKEv2 and regulate the level of encryption:
Private Internet Access for web browsers
You can download Chrome, Firefox, and Opera extensions.
PIA’s Chrome and Firefox extensions are HTTPS proxy addons. This is good, but keep in mind that only your web traffic will be affected.
Chrome and Firefox extensions aren’t the only way to use a Private Internet Access proxy – each subscription includes a SOCKS5 proxy. You’ll need a separate password to use it, which you can generate on the Client Control Panel.
Netflix and other streaming services
PIA works great in unblocking Netflix US.
I’ve tested Netflix from Europe, using fast.com to determine the nominal speed and check loading times (if the content was successfully unblocked). The original speed without a VPN was 230 Mbps, as per the fast.com test.
US, New York
64 Mbps, more than enough for UHD (4K). Loading times didn’t exceed a few seconds. Here’s the result:
US, Los Angeles
74 Mbps. More than once, I’m getting better Netflix results on the West Coast despite New York being closer.
92 Mbps and Netflix unblocked! Loading times were a couple of seconds at most, while streaming was as smooth as marble.
I tried a bunch of other locations as well – the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan – but none were able to unblock Netflix.
Therefore, if you want to access more Netflix libraries, look for another VPN service.
Private Internet Access for Kodi
In terms of security, Private Internet Access is a great choice for Kodi. However, in terms of compatibility, PIA has no Android TV or Amazon Fire TV (Firestick) app, although you can still run it on these devices following the instructions on their website.
On the other hand, PIA is not the go-to choice for geographically-impaired. Therefore, all in all, I can recommend PIA VPN for Kodi, but it’s not the best choice.
Does Private Internet Access support Torrenting?
Private Internet Access is definitely not the worst choice for torrenting. European and North American users will find the speeds decent, and the security features are sufficient.
There’s also the Port Forwarding feature, which is great if your torrent tracker demands that you seed. Use this at your own risk, as it increases the chances of being found out.
Unlike some other VPN services, PIA doesn’t limit P2P traffic on the network – you can torrent on any server. Additionally, users can take advantage of the free SOCKS5 proxy.
This allows you to secure traffic at the VPN app level, thus potentially saving some valuable bandwidth.
Private Internet Access has limited customer support options. They are:
- Self-help resources – the Knowledgebase, Guides, News, a forum (Feedback)
- Support tickets
There’s no live chat option, let alone one that‘s functional 24/7. The “ticket” system is just not as good: it’s too slow, especially for queries that don’t require much time or attention. And as anyone who’s worked in customer service will tell you, an overwhelming majority of issues can be solved very quickly.
Additionally, I found that the internet is littered with angry comments about unresponsive PIA support, robotic and unhelpful answers, and the lack of a good way to take your grievances “up the chain of command.”
There are three different Private Internet Access pricing plans. You can get it for:
- 1-month plan: $9.95
- 6-month plan: $35.95 ($5.99/month)
- 1-year plan: $39.95 ($3.33/month)
I might bash Private Internet Access for not offering a free trial, but with prices so low I don’t blame them for skipping it. Instead, you get a 7-day money-back guarantee – fair enough, PIA.
Also, a generous ten simultaneous connections limit will allow you to share the account with family and friends.
Should you get Private Internet Access VPN?
PIA is a trustworthy tool both in terms of security and entertainment.
If you’re European or North American and your goals are to 1) torrent; 2) stream Netflix US; 3) protect yourself from cybercriminals whilst sipping a Starbucks latte – PIA is for you.