Private Internet Access is a longstanding veteran in the VPN industry — but a lot has changed in the past few years. It was purchased by a company with a history of infecting devices with malware, and the latest tests below reveal some big shortcomings.
In this Private Internet Access (PIA) review we set out to see how the VPN stacks up against the competition. To do this, we purchased a subscription, researched the company, and thoroughly tested the VPN to see:
- How fast are PIA servers in various locations around the US and Europe?
- How well do the VPN applications work?
- Does this VPN have any data leaks or security problems?
- Does it work well with Netflix and other streaming services?
So let’s begin with an overview of our findings before getting into the details.
Private Internet Access Overview
Here is a brief overview of the test results and research findings for this PIA review:
Pros of Private Internet Access:
- Secure and user-friendly VPN apps
- Extra privacy and security features
- Tested and proven no logs VPN provider
- Low prices
Cons of Private Internet Access:
- Slow and inconsistent speeds
- Based in the United States (bad privacy jurisdiction)
- Does not work well for Netflix and streaming
- Troubling history of the parent company (Kape)
Additional research findings:
- PIA support tests
- Convicted cryptocurrency criminal is the CTO of PIA
- Does PIA work well for torrenting?
Private Internet Access Pros
1. Secure and user-friendly VPN apps
Private Internet Access offers a nice selection of VPN apps for desktop and mobile operating systems. Additionally, PIA also has browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera browsers. And speaking of Opera browser, they also offer a VPN that we tested out in the Opera VPN review. Below you can see all of the PIA apps:
Note: Most of the leading VPNs today support more than just desktop and mobile operating systems. PIA does not fall in this category. For comparison, we find that both Surfshark and NordVPN support gaming systems, Smart TVs, Firestick, routers, and all major desktop and mobile operating systems.
PIA Windows app
For this review, I thoroughly tested out the Windows VPN client. Overall, the Windows client feels very polished and is also user-friendly. I also liked the “dark mode” design. Below you can see the PIA Windows client which expands or collapses to reveal more settings and options. Here is the collapsed version displaying basic connection info:
The app hovers above the tray in the bottom-right corner of the desktop. In addition to all the features we covered above, the PIA desktop client also has:
- Light and dark modes (dark mode pictured above)
- Settings to open VPN client on system startup
- Connect on launch settings (to a specified VPN server)
- Different language settings
- Customizable DNS options
- Port forwarding
I tested version 2.6.1 for this PIA review.
Security and privacy tests
Most people using VPNs today need a service that is secure and free of data leaks. And while data leaks are common with free VPN apps, this is not something we should expect with a premium (paid) service that promises security.
So to test this, I ran both the Windows and Mac OS clients through some basic VPN tests and checks to identify leaks or broken features.
Below I’m testing the PIA Windows VPN client for leaks while connected to a server in Sweden. You can see that there were no leaks to be found, with my real IPv6 address being blocked (PIA does not support IPv6).
I also tested the PIA Mac OS client and found it to be secure and without leaks. Although I’m not sure I would consider PIA to be one of the best VPNs for Mac, it may still be a decent choice for Mac users.
PIA also implements a good kill switch with their VPN apps, which will block traffic if the VPN connection drops for any reason. This ensures all traffic remains encrypted and protected by the VPN tunnel.
The PIA kill switch has three levels:
- Off: does not block any traffic
- Auto: blocks outside traffic when the VPN is on
- Always: Also blocks all traffic when the VPN is off
In testing out the kill switch with various interruptions, everything appeared to work well.
2. Extra privacy and security features
Despite being a basic VPN service, Private Internet Access still offers some good privacy and security features.
In addition to the multi-level kill switch we discussed above, PIA also provides:
- Various data encryption options, including WireGuard
- An ad blocking feature called PIA MACE
First, the WireGuard protocol is an excellent feature that usually offers big advantages with performance. However, in our tests for this PIA review, WireGuard speeds were not very good (we’ll examine slow speeds further below). Nonetheless, the WireGuard VPN protocol does still offer some advantages, including upgraded security and more reliability on mobile devices.
Below you can see the encryption options in the PIA Windows app:
In most cases, the WireGuard protocol offers big advantages over OpenVPN. For example, you can really see this in the recent NordVPN vs IPVanish comparison.
PIA MACE ad blocker
Another good feature offered by PIA is the ad blocker, which they call PIA MACE.
PIA MACE blocks domains for advertisements, trackers, and malware. Unlike some other ad blocker options, PIA MACE does not have the ability to white list certain domains, or adjust the filter settings. It is simply On or Off.
While some ad blocker is better than no ad blocker, I would not recommend using PIA MAC as your primary ad blocker. When I tested different VPN ad blockers, I found that PIA’s ad blocker did not block as many domains as other options. Using a large list of advertising and malware domains (from various public sources), PIA MACE only blocked:
- 28% of advertising domains
- 37% of malware domains
In terms of VPN ad blockers, NordVPN, Surfshark, and Perfect Privacy performed better than PIA, while PureVPN and CyberGhost performed the worst. We compare and contrast the two in our Surfshark vs PIA guide.
Overall, PIA does well in terms of security and privacy features, even if the ad blocker is not very robust.
3. PIA is a tested and proven “no logs” VPN provider
Many VPN services claim to be “no logs” – but few have actually been tested and/or verified.
Private Internet Access is one of the few verified no logs VPN services that has survived real-world tests. There were two separate court cases where Private Internet Access was subpoenaed for data logs, but they could not provide any information.
The first court case occurred in 2016 when the FBI demanded logs concerning a PIA user who had allegedly been making bomb threats. As discussed in official court records, the only information PIA was able to provide was a cluster of VPN IP addresses that were allegedly used for the crime:
A subpoena was sent to London Trust Media [Private Internet Access] and the only information they could provide is that the cluster of IP addresses being used was from the east coast of the United States.
The second court case occurred in June 2018, when US authorities again demanded data logs for a criminal investigation. Once again, however, PIA was not able to provide any data on the accused VPN user:
John Allan Arsenault, general counsel for London Trust Media, a VPN company, testified about how many VPN companies, including his, intentionally don’t retain logs of internet activity of their clients so that they cannot be produced in response to subpoenas from law enforcement or others. London Trust Media operates the brand Private Internet Access (PIA), which owns several IP addresses used to hack Embarcadero Media.
Private Internet Access does not log user activity, such as what files they accessed or changes they made to a website.
While PIA has not undergone an audit to verify their “no logs” policies, such as with NordVPN and VyprVPN, these two court cases certainly validate their claims.
Court cases are indeed a good test to verify logging claims. After all, a court case revealed that PureVPN had been logging customer data and handing it over to US authorities, despite claiming to be a “no logs” VPN service. (You can get the details in our PureVPN review.)
4. Low prices for Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access has previously been among the best cheap VPN services on the market, with very affordable prices.
Right now there are three basic pricing tiers:
At under $3 per month with the two-year plan, PIA is very affordable. They currently do not offer any free trials. However, with a 30 day refund window, it does function like a free trial VPN allowing you to test the service and cancel if you don’t like it.
Refund policy – All plans come with a 30 day refund policy, which is about average for the VPN industry. Reading through the Terms of Service, I did find a few exceptions to the 30 day refund window:
Due to limitations with 3rd party payment processors, certain accounts cannot be refunded by PIA directly. Accounts purchased through the Apple Store, Giftcards or 3rd party deal sites, can only be refunded by the payment processor.
It’s interesting to see a mention of “Giftcards” in the refund policy since PIA does not offer that payment option anymore. You will also be denied a refund if you “materially breach” any part of the Terms of Service.
Payment options – At the time of this PIA review, they currently offer four different payment methods, as you can see below:
This is a pretty good selection of options. Some VPNs do not even support cryptocurrency payments, as we noted in the IPVanish review. So overall this is another strong point for PIA.
Now let’s move on to some of the drawbacks with Private Internet Access.
Private Internet Access Cons
Now that we’ve covered some of the pros of PIA, we’ll look at the cons.
1. Slow and inconsistent speeds
One of the biggest drawbacks we noted in this PIA review was with performance. This was somewhat surprising, however, since most VPNs that support WireGuard have excellent performance. With PIA, I ran numerous speed tests on a 500 Mbps internet connection (baseline speed) from my testing lab in the United States.
In order to give PIA the best performance test possible, I selected the WireGuard VPN protocol and ran speed tests with the latest version of the PIA Windows client. Now let’s examine the results.
Here was a PIA server in Seattle at 41 Mbps:
This is really bad. Getting only 41 Mbps on a 500 Mbps connection is definitely slower than average. So let’s examine some other locations.
Here was a PIA server in Los Angeles, California at 85 Mbps:
While this is better than the previous test result, it is still quite slow. We should be getting speeds over 200 Mbps, especially with the WireGuard protocol.
Next, I tested a PIA server in New York, which gave me about 23 Mbps.
With PIA servers in the United States, it is clear that this is a slow VPN.
For the final speed test, I decided to try a location across the pond in the United Kingdom. Here was a PIA server in London, UK, which gave me 10 Mbps.
With slow speeds like this, PIA is certainly not the best VPN for the UK if you value performance.
In previous PIA reviews, speeds were better. It seems that speeds with Private Internet Access are getting worse, even after adding WireGuard.
Comparison with VPNs that are faster than PIA
For comparison, the fastest VPN we have tested here on Restore Privacy is NordVPN. It also supports the WireGuard protocol and has a huge global network of fast servers. We could routinely get speeds over 300 Mbps in our tests for the NordVPN review. Here is one server location in Seattle with speeds of 445 Mbps:
We will also be publishing more speed comparisons in the PIA vs NordVPN report.
2. Based in the United States (bad privacy jurisdiction)
While Private Internet Access does well in some areas of privacy, one major drawback is the jurisdiction.
PIA is based in the United States, which is a member of the five eyes surveillance alliance. And aside from the surveillance concerns, there are also legal drawbacks to operating a VPN in the US. The biggest issue is that the US government can legally force businesses to log customer data and provide this to authorities. Additionally, authorities can also issue gag orders, thereby prohibiting the business from alerting its customers to privacy violations (see National Security Letters).
There are previous examples of this happening, such as with IPVanish being forced to log user data, despite being a “no logs” VPN. Another example was Lavabit being coerced to hand over encryption keys.
How important is jurisdiction?
Ultimately, the answer is that it depends on your unique needs and threat model, which you should consider when selecting the best VPN service for your needs. Many people disagree about the importance of jurisdiction, and the answer is not entirely clear, simply because we cannot see what’s going on behind the scenes.
As a business operating in the United States, PIA is still obligated to comply with all US laws, regulations, and court orders – or shut down like Lavabit in 2013. It’s also worth noting that the previous “no logs” court cases happened under previous ownership, not the current parent company (Kape).
3. Does not work well for streaming
Private Internet Access has never done well for streaming in my tests. For example, Netflix has always been hit or miss. I’ve tested US servers with PIA to Access Netflix, and I was blocked out.
Private Internet Access may get through with some servers, but certainly not the ones I tried to use. It is not the best VPN for Netflix by a long shot. Consider using alternatives.
It’s also important to note that the Netflix VPN issue is always a cat and mouse game that continues to evolve. Even though I could not access Netflix with Private Internet Access, there may be a few servers in the network that are getting through (but I gave up). Two of the best VPNs for Netflix are NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
I also tested out BBC iPlayer, which is a popular streaming service for UK content — and it’s also free. Once again, however, PIA was not able to get through and was blocked out. Below you can see I’m using a PIA server in London, but BBC iPlayer is still not accessible.
In PIA’s defense, there are only a few VPNs that work for BBC iPlayer, with most others getting blocked.
4. Troubling history of the parent company (Kape)
I have an article dedicated to the issue of Kape purchasing PIA VPN. Here are the main highlights:
- Kape purchased Private Internet Access in November 2019.
- Kape was formerly named Crossrider and produced high-risk malware and adware that infected peoples’ computers.
- Crossrider changed its name to Kape due to controversial “past activities“.
- In 2017, Crossrider purchased CyberGhost VPN, and then later Zenmate.
- Key figures behind Crossrider (Kape) have ties to various intelligence organizations.
As we have noted before, trust is a major factor when choosing Privacy Tools. After all, a VPN has the potential to record everything you do online when you decide to use it to encrypt traffic. Given the history of Kape, which now owns PIA, it’s clear that trust may be lacking due to controversial “past activities”.
Additional research findings:
Below are additional findings from my research of PIA for this review.
PIA support tests
Private Internet Access offers email (ticket) support and chat. Unfortunately, I was not able to reach live chat support when I tried for this review. Here was the message I received when attempting to connect with a support technician at PIA:
The chat ended, but nobody ever got back to me. This is a case of bad support in my opinion.
Most of the leading VPNs offer 24/7 live chat support with professional and responsive staff. This does not seem to be the case with PIA at this time.
Convicted cryptocurrency criminal is the CTO of PIA
For reasons that are not entirely clear, some of the higher-ups at Private Internet Access decided to hire Mark Karpeles as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) in April 2018.
To understand why this was upsetting to many PIA users, we’ll just take a quick look at Mark Karpeles.
Mark Karpeles was running Mt. Gox in 2014 when it suddenly collapsed, with millions of dollars in Bitcoins disappearing. Karpeles was subsequently arrested in Japan and charged with fraud and embezzlement. As to where all the Bitcoins that were stored at Mt. Gox ended up, nobody seems to know:
650,000 bitcoins remain unaccounted for as a result of the Mt. Gox hack. A number of online theories have been developed as to where the missing coins are. Some have suggested that Mt. Gox never had the amount of coins that it claimed, and that Karpelés had manipulated the numbers to make it appear that Mt. Gox held more bitcoin than it in fact held.
In March 2019, Karpeles was found guilty of tampering with financial records in a Japanese court:
Mark Karpeles, a central figure in the early days of Bitcoin who presided over the dramatic 2014 collapse of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, was found guilty of tampering with financial records but will likely avoid jail time after receiving a suspended sentence.
The former Mt. Gox chief executive officer sometimes mixed his personal finances with those of the exchange and fiddled with its accounts, apparently to hide the fact that the platform had lost money to hackers, the Tokyo District Court said on Friday. The court cleared Karpeles of embezzlement charges, concluding that the 33-year-old Frenchman had acted without ill intent.
Karpeles, who wore a dark suit in court and bowed to the judge before his sentence was handed down, wasn’t on trial for the mysterious disappearance of Bitcoins that led to Mt. Gox’s implosion. He was given a 2 1/2 year suspended sentence, which he won’t have to serve unless he commits another violation within four years.
“The charge of electronic record tampering is true and deserves punishment, but there’s no criminal evidence of embezzlement,” the court said in its verdict. It blamed Karpeles for “massive harm to the trust of his users,” saying “there is no excuse for the defendant, who is an engineer with expert knowledge, to abuse his status and authority to perform clever criminal acts.”
Due to the controversy that erupted in various forums after Karpeles joined PIA, Andrew Lee (co-founder of PIA) wrote a blog post where he explained his reasoning. The post discusses “Mistakes, Forgiveness and Human Progress” – but that may not be enough for PIA users who trust the company with securing their private data.
Does PIA work well for torrenting?
When selecting the best VPN for torrenting, there are a few things you want to look for:
- Fast speeds
- Secure apps
- Good leak protection settings
While PIA offers secure apps with a kill switch, the speeds were not good in my tests. This means that torrenting will be most likely be slow. On a positive note, PIA does have port forwarding, which is useful with torrenting, but the slow speeds are still a big drawback.
Another drawback for torrenting is (once again) the US jurisdiction. The US has very strict copyright violation laws (DMCA) and many large media companies that go after people for copyright infringement. Using a VPN in an offshore jurisdiction may be safer, as they would not need to comply with copyright infringement laws or deal with DMCA issues. We cover this issue more in our ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison.
Private Internet Access review conclusion
Private Internet Access may be cheap, but it still does not offer much value. On a positive note, it does have good VPN apps that are secure and user-friendly. But even with that, these drawbacks stand out:
- Slow and inconsistent speeds
- Based in the United States
- Does not work well with streaming services
- Troubling history with the parent company (Kape)
- Mediocre support that may or may not be available
In short, we’re not recommending this VPN. There are too many other great alternatives to consider.
Best alternatives to Private Internet Access
Click the VPN name below to read our full review – or grab the discount for the best savings. All three of these VPNs have a 30 day money-back guarantee.
- NordVPN review [68% discount + 3 months FREE]
- Surfshark review [81% discount coupon]
- ExpressVPN review
You can also check out our guide on the top-performing VPN services based on the latest test results.
If you have used Private Internet Access (PIA), feel free to share your review in the comments below.
Private Internet Access Review