2.5 / 5.0
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a decent, low-cost VPN service that is based in the United States and works with a variety of devices. It offers acceptable speeds, a simple VPN application and an ad blocker, for a very competitive price. Unfortunately, there are also some drawbacks you should consider, such as poor support and limited features.
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(This drops prices down to $2.91 per month.)
Passed all tests
- Low price ($2.91 per month)
- No logs
- Some decent security and privacy features
- Ad blocker (but very minimal)
- Based in the US
- Poor support
- Limited on features
Private Internet Access Review
Alternatives to Private Internet Access:
Private Internet Access Price
Private Internet Access (PIA) offers three basic pricing tiers.
With every plan you get a 7 day money-back guarantee. There are no hidden bandwidth clauses or other restrictions on the refund.
Unfortunately, I found it was difficult to get a refund and had to send their support department numerous emails. Searching online, it seems I’m not the only one complaining about this issue. Here are just a few recent complaints directly from the PIA forums:
I’m not sure I would trust the 7 day refund window, but their support may have improved since these issues were posted.
London Trust Media and US jurisdiction
PIA is owned by a company called London Trust Media, Inc. Despite the name, it’s an American company that appears to be located in the state of Indiana. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find much information on London Trust Media and the people and investors behind the company.
In general, the United States is not the best jurisdiction when it comes to VPNs and privacy. This is due to:
- Mass government surveillance (NSA spying)
- Mass corporate surveillance (Google, Facebook, Verizon, Comcast and most US telecoms)
- Troubling copyright laws (Digital Millennium Copyright Act – DMCA)
Many large tech and telecom companies have also been working directly with the NSA for a number of years (see the PRISM Program).
For more of a discussion on privacy jurisdictions, check out the Five Eyes surveillance article.
While PIA doesn’t have too many features, the application is simple and user-friendly. It integrates well with both the Mac OS and Windows operating systems. In Windows, you can simply select the red PIA icon from the dashboard and connect to a VPN server.
Within the application you can easily select from different security features and encryption options.
One nice feature is called “PIA MACE” which blocks malicious advertisements, trackers, and malware. This is similar to the Perfect Privacy Trackstop feature, but PIA’s ad-blocker is not as customizable or powerful (number of items blocked).
The main drawback of PIA MACE is that it is a very limited ad blocker.
You cannot customize anything and it does not seem to filter as many ads as other alternatives, such as Perfect Privacy’s Trackstop.
In terms of functionality, PIA is simple and easy to use. A small icon (a privacy-looking character) with a check mark next to it lets you know you’re connected and protected. Within the dashboard you can connect to VPN servers around the world.
The map below shows worldwide PIA server locations. As you can see, it isn’t the largest server network, but it still gives you a decent selection.
I also tested the servers to verify their true locations using the testing methods here.
Everything matched up.
PIA speeds and reliability
After testing a number of different servers, I found that speeds could vary somewhat depending on the server and time of day. I suspect this problem may have to do with the server load.
Unfortunately, PIA does not provide a server status page with real-time bandwidth information, (such as this). Therefore, there’s no way to see the real-time bandwidth or know for sure what was causing these speed/connection issues.
Overall, Private Internet Access has ok speeds. Not awful, but certainly not great.
Privacy and security features
PIA provides some basic privacy and security features that will benefit users.
The two main features are the “kill switch” and “IPv6 leak protection.” The kill switch blocks all internet traffic in the event of a dropped VPN connection.
The IPv6 leak protection feature prevents your IPv6 address from “leaking” outside of the VPN tunnel.
The real question is how these features perform in testing…
Privacy features testing results
My tests checked for:
- IPv4 leaks
- IPv6 leaks
- DNS leaks
- WebRTC leaks
The PIA Mac OS and Windows clients passed all tests.
I did not identify any active or reconnection leaks. For a lower-priced VPN service, PIA is a decent option that should keep you safe.
Note: In older versions of the applications I did occasionally have problems with brief reconnection leaks. However, these issues appear to be fixed with the latest round of testing for this review. Nonetheless, it’s always good to verify your VPN is working by testing it periodically.
PIA’s homepage claims they do not keep any “traffic or request logs” – which is a good sign.
However, it’s important to note that VPN logs are a grey area. PIA is a large provider that imposes limitations on subscriptions (limited to 5 connections). Usually, limitations require logging (connection logs), which is important to keep in mind.
Regarding logs, it’s important to note that the US is a dangerous jurisdiction that has compelled various companies to log and hand over customer data. There was also recently a case where US authorities forced a Hong Kong VPN provider (PureVPN) to log data and provide this to the FBI.
Being located in the United States, PIA is more vulnerable to these issues, due to the simple fact that they fall under US regulations and laws.
For providers that are outside of the United States, check out the Best VPNs list.
PIA’s support seems to have taken a nose dive in the past few months when it comes to support. Going back a few years ago when I first tested PIA, I do not remember having any problems with support. However, the support has recently taken a turn for the worse, based on my recent interactions and other user feedback I’ve seen online.
Here is a recent screenshot I took from the PIA forums:
This may just be a temporary issue with the support department, but regardless, it is not reassuring.
I have also seen a few replies where PIA has stated they are expanding their support. We’ll check back later to see how this has gone – hopefully things will improve.
PIA review conclusion
Private Internet Access is overall a mixed bag. If you’re looking for a cheap, decent VPN service, it’s worth considering. But there are other cheap options available that are also based in better jurisdictions for privacy, such as VPN.ac in Romania (review), ExpressVPN in the British Virgin Islands (review), and VyprVPN in Switzerland (review).
You can also check out the VPN coupons page for other active discounts.
For a full description of our top VPN recommendations, see the Best VPNs list.
And if you want to give PIA a shot, you can check them out here:
Alternatives to Private Internet Access: