Private Internet Access Review: PIA in 2017
Despite this, more recently we have noticed a surprising increase in complaints about Private Internet Access VPN. Add this to an ever-increasing amount of competition in the VPN market, and we have rightly decided to revisit this review for consumers.
Has Private Internet Access VPN allowed its service to slip? Can complaints being made about the service be substantiated? We think these questions are highly important, and on a personal level I can;t wait to find out! So, let’s dive in head first and take a look at this famous VPN provider to see if it still deserves the reputation that it has grown to have.
PIA’s Pricing and Plans
When it comes to the cost of Private Internet Access, there can be no doubt that it is cheap. The VPN rewards subscribers for committing for a longer period of time. Apart from that, the various plans are identical. The most expensive option is a one-month subscription, which at $6.95 per month is still insanely cheap for what you get.
Next, users may opt for the $35.95 six-month plan ($5.95 per month). This is much more reasonable, though why you wouldn’t pay just $4.00 more to get the $39.95 yearly plan is beyond me. Paying annually brings down the monthly cost to $3.33, which is amazing considering the privacy levels that PIA provides.
Of course, if you do decide to commit for a longer period of time you will be stuck with the VPN for longer too, and Private Internet Access certainly seems to be suffering from some problems of late. For this reason, we urge you to read this article in its entirety before deciding on a subscribing.
However, don’t forget that PIA does have a 7-day money back guarantee! So you can test it risk-free and get your money back if you decide against it for any reason!
PIA accepts many different payment methods, including credit cards, PayPal, and various other online payments. Users can also pay with “hundreds of different gift cards,” including Starbucks, Bestbuy, and Walmart.
In addition, PIA accepts Bitcoins, so you can pay anonymously for added privacy if you wish. Ripple did use to be an option, but PIA appears to have removed it since last time we reviewed the VPN. However, a new option to pay with Z-cash is now available.
- Cheaper than most VPNs that are similar
- Extremely private and secure
- Plenty of encryption options (including OpenVPN, our recommended protocol)
- Fast connection speeds for streaming
- Servers all around the world
- Very bad customer care with exceedingly long waiting times for responses to questions
- Not great for beginners who need plenty of support
- Some complaints about the PIA software for Mac and iOS
Private Internet Access Features
Private Internet Access is based in Michigan in the US. The VPN provides access to 3,253 servers in 25 countries. Although that is fewer countries than some VPN providers, it’s still a huge amount of choice considering the budget price of this VPN. In addition, those servers are superbly well placed around the globe and will definitely allow you to unblock most things we can think of.
PIA has a lot of pro features such as a kill switch, Domain Name System (DNS) leak protection, a built in Socket Secure (SOCKS5) proxy, a choice of encryption protocols, an auto connect feature that connects the VPN as soon as it is launched and apps for all platforms (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux, and Chrome). It also permits five simultaneous connections.
Another sweet feature is that the website shows server counts, locations, and bandwidth stats.
Here is a video about Private Internet Access that the BestVPN.com team created last year:
Is Private Internet Access Secure?
As mentioned, Private Internet Access VPN is based in the US (in the state of Indiana). This isn’t perfect in terms of privacy because the US government can impose warrants and gag orders. In addition, the US is home to the NSA and the CIA. It is also part of the Five Eyes surveillance agreement.
The good news is that PIA does make up for this with its zero logs policy (which is as good as logging policies can get). However, because it is in the US it could be served a gag order, and a warrant, and subscribers would be none the wiser. This is always a concern with US-based VPN providers and is one reason that we tend to encourage people to subscribe to VPNs based in other locations
Having said that, as far as we can tell PIA has never disclosed any information about its subscribers to the authorities. With that in mind, it seems likely that the vast majority of people will be secure using PIA as their VPN.
As far as encryption is concerned, PIA is very secure. It gives users lots of options including Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), or OpenVPN. Here at BestVPN.com, we highly recommend OpenVPN because it is by far the most secure (and open source) encryption protocol. If you do get a PIA subscription, we strongly encourage you to connect using OpenVPN!
OpenVPN encryption is handled via a military grade AES-256 cipher, with strong SHA256 for authorization, and handshake of RSA 4096. This is truly superb. Arguably, in fact, the handshake could be a little weaker and you would still be secure. So feel free to set it manually to RSA 2048 if you plan to do a lot of streaming with your VPN (this will make it faster).
Having so many options can be a bit confusing for VPN beginners. However, having those options means that people who need the strongest encryption can get it. Those who don’t really need it can lower it manually. As such, this is a positive aspect of the service.
The only trouble with more features and options is that, for beginners, the lack of customer support can lead to confusion, frustration, and annoyance. This lack of support has led to a large number of complaints in recent times. For this reason, we recommend reading the “Customer Care” section below before subscribing to PIA.
The PIA website is well designed, looks awesome, and doesn’t attempt to hide any important details about the service. Details about encryption are readily available, and the firm makes no attempt to hide that it is based in the US. We applaud PIA for this transparency.
At the top of the homepage, you’ll find a navigation banner, which easily connects you to all the different parts of the website. Those are clearly labeled: Home, How It Works, Downloads and Support, Contact Us and Join Now. In addition, there is a link in the top right that says Member Login.
One of the most impressive thing about the Private Internet Access website is its excellent blog. That blog is written by the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge. Falkvinge acts as head of privacy at PIA, and writes the blog content. That blog is available to everybody including non-OIA subscribers. It is an excellent source of privacy news.
In addition, PIA has excellent guides and an FAQ section that includes video tutorials to help users solve problems. These range from setting up PIA VPN on a DD-WRT router, to changing and updating your password.
This is an excellent resource. It is intended to allow subscribers to keep the service running smoothly without having to contact support. Despite this, when compared to other services the lack of easily attainable support is what lets Private Internet Access VPN down.
The website can be viewed in 18 languages. This is astounding, and demonstrates the international aspirations of this VPN.
Support is the most lacking part of Private Internet Access’ VPN service. While the best VPN services are proud to have 24/7 live chat support, PIA’s customer support is close to non-existent. Here at BestVPN.com we hear stories, time and time again, about PIA users seeking help using the ticket system, only to be left waiting for a response for weeks at a time.
This rightly raises concerns from subscribers, who ask questions like:
“If they can’t be bothered to provide adequate support, how can I be sure that they are running the servers and the business with the privacy that they claim?”
This question is perfectly valid. For a VPN provider that obviouly desires to sell its services globally, the lack of desire to support its clients is rather shocking. A VPN service is all about helping people to get privacy and online freedom. PIA appears to have got a bit sloppy when it comes to this critical side of the service.
Only a few years ago, PIA was gaining endorsements from online hubs like LifeHacker, Wired, and Gizmodo. Now, however, PIA is living off of those endorsements, which it plasters on its homepage like badges of honor.
With an obvious will to gain subscribers from all over the world, one wishes that PIA would employ the few staff necessary to man a 24/7 live chat support. After all, this has become a vital element of a world-class VPN service, and PIA is falling short.
Subscribing and setting up Private Internet Access VPN is an easy job. All one has to do is register with an active email address and make a payment. The level of anonymity depends entirely on you, and whether you decide to use Bitcoins or a gift card to subscribe. Doing this means that you could use a fake name in order to further protect you digital footprint.
Once you subscribe, you can head over to the download area and get the software you need for your platform. The software is available for all the most popular platforms. The .ovpn files are available for people who want to connect using third party OpenVPN GUI, OpenVPN connect (iOS) or OpenVPN for Android.
The PIA Windows VPN Client
The Private Internet Access software is a fully featured custom VPN client. It has lots of top-end features and options. It might not be the most stylish front end ever, but in terms of functionality, it is excellent.
You can easily access all of the settings by using the Simple/Advanced button in the bottom left corner. In simple mode, the client shows login setting options and a drop-down menu for selecting from server locations.
In advanced mode, you can select your encryption preferences. The Connection button brings up useful features such as port forwarding – you can use this to get around firewalls. You can also turn on a per-app kill switch to protect your data in case the VPN drops out.
I’ve noticed people complaining that the kill switch is a bit temperamental. However, this is said to have been improved in one of the more recent updates. It certainly appeared to work fine during my short time testing it.
In addition, there is both DNS and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) protection. You can see the results of my tests of these features below. One thing worth bearing in mind is that PIA does not auto-update or have an update checker. Thus you will need to periodically check the website to see if PIA has released a new version of the client.
PIA Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)
Speeds were tested on a 50 Mbps Virgin Media fiber connection using testmy.net. As you can see from the base tests, my internet connection was being unusually sluggish on the day of the tests (averaging at just over 30 Mbps).
I tested the Netherlands and UK servers from a UK test server. The US server was tested using an East Coast (New York) test server. Speeds were impressive on all three servers. I tested each server five times, and some of the tests came out very close to the base tests. Certainly, PIA is good enough for streaming in HD – there is no doubt about that.
I used ipleak.net to test for IP leaks, DNS leaks, and WebRTC leaks. I am happy to report that there were no leaks of this nature during my tests.
However, I did note that some people have discovered a WebRTC leak while using PIA. The WebRTC bug could reveal your true location. Thus, if you use PIA, we recommend plugging this hole yourself by disabling WebRTC in your browser. This is pretty easy in Firefox. In Chrome, you can use this browser extension to stop WebRTC leaks.
This is probably unnecessary, as I discovered no WebRTC leaks during my tests. However, at BestVPN.com we believe it is always worth using ipleak.net yourself to check for leaks on your system. For more info on WebRTC leaks and how to plug them, please look here.
Private Internet Access VPN is compatible and has software for Android, Mac, iOS, and Linux, as well as the Windows client that I tested. In addition, it can be installed directly on DD-WRT and Tomato routers. It has guides for setting these up.
In fact, there are setup guides and tutorials to help set up every single platform. As such, despite its poor customer care, PIA does have just about every base covered – as long as you don’t mind not communicating with someone directly (without having to wait an excruciatingly long time).
Private Internet Access has a dedicated Android app. I decided to give it a once over. To look at, it is exactly the same as the Windows version. It even has all the same top end features, such as the kill switch and the wide variety of encryption options. The same is also true of the auto-connect and SSL features. Furthermore, it is possible to select between Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP), which might come in handy when out and about using public WiFi.
I found the Android app to work well. A quick check of speeds revealed that they were no different to those experienced in the Windows version.
Private Internet Access VPN Review: Conclusion
- Strong encryption and lots of options
- Software is the same on various platforms
- Zero logs (but it’s based in the US, so could be served a warrant)
- Fully featured with a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and auto-connect
- Accepts Bitcoin and Z-coin
- Really cheap if you get a yearly subscription
- Seven-day money-back guarantee
- Unblocks BBC iPlayer
I wasn’t so sure about:
- Performance fluctuations on some servers (according to consumers)
- Kill switch fails occasionally (according to consumers)
- Doesn’t unblock US Netflix
PIA has very professional software that does exactly what it is supposed to. This leaves me extremely saddened by the way that PIA is being run. It could be one of the best VPNs in the world if PIA just took better care of its subscribers.
When it comes to PIA, the old saying “you get what you pay for” couldn’t be more true. One can’t help feeling, however, that maybe PIA would be better off charging just a few extra dollars in order to imporove its customer support.
In the end, PIA is perfect for people who are accustomed to VPNs and are confident with fixing any issues that might arise. Even people with the patience to look through the website to sort out any issues will probably be OK with a PIA subscription.
However, with the cost of a premium VPN service averaging as little as $70 per year, one can’t help feeling that, for most people, getting a VPN that has everything is a better way to go. After all, that isn’t a massive sum of money.
With that said, if you’re looking for a workable VPN service that is a bargain then PIA still remains one of the best options on the market. I think PIA knows that too, so don’t hold your breath for any sudden improvements – PIA is what it is: a cheaper option that has a few flaws. It’s still much better than the vast majority of VPNs on the market!