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Private Internet Access Review 2022 — Good, but is it Safe?
Private Internet Access has one of the cheapest VPN subscriptions available — you can sign up for as little as $2.19/month. With such a low price, I wondered whether PIA could really stand out against its higher-priced competitors. It’s been around for 10+ years, so it could be one of the best-value VPNs out there.
I decided to find out just how good it is by looking into the company’s logging policy, security features, and testing out its speeds. In addition, I performed in-depth tests on its ability to unblock streaming platforms, its torrenting performance, and every other aspect of the VPN to see where it ranks among other top VPNs.
Overall, Private Internet Access is a secure choice and a good value for the money. With its strong torrenting performance and customizable security options, it’s impressive that you can get a subscription for so little. And considering it comes with a trustworthy 30-day money-back guarantee, it shows that this VPN really has faith in its product. With that said, even though it’s one of the cheapest, I wouldn’t call it the best. There are still a few VPNs out there that it falls short of.
Streaming — Unblocks 20 Top Streaming Platforms Including US Netflix and Disney+
Private Internet Access is good at unblocking streaming platforms. I was able to unblock US Netflix and libraries from 8 other countries without any issues. Hulu and HBO Max were a bit tougher, but I unblocked them with some simple troubleshooting. The only platforms I tested that didn’t work were ITV and ESPN+.
I tested 25+ servers and unblocked the following platforms:
Amazon Prime Video
Unblocked: Netflix (US, UK, Japan, and 6 Other Libraries)
I easily unblocked US Netflix and was able to watch shows and movies without buffering. My first test was on the Seattle server. It took about 3 seconds to load, but then Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D played back without any interruptions.
The Denver server worked just as well. However, the Texas server gave me a significantly longer load time.
In addition to the US library, I was able to unblock Netflix regions in the following countries:
However, I didn’t need to use the optimized streaming servers to unblock Netflix libraries. There are streaming-optimized servers in the US, Japan, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, and Italy. These servers are meant to improve your performance during streaming, but I didn’t notice any difference. For example, the non-optimized Tokyo server took 16 seconds to load Netflix and so did the JP Streaming Optimized server.
Overall, it was easy to unblock libraries in countries far away from me (I’m located in the US). I had one small issue accessing Netflix France, but once I switched from Chrome to Microsoft Edge it loaded up.
Once I had access, the videos played back fairly well. I did have to wait around 5 seconds for each to load, and there were a few instances of buffering.
Also Unblocks: Kodi, Crunchyroll, Peacock and more
Private Internet Access also works with Kodi and Popcorn Time. Kodi is a free app that makes it easier to stream media on all your devices. However, it can also be used to access platforms that have illegal content. My team and I don’t condone any illegal activity, so I recommend you only watch copyright-free content on these channels.
Popcorn Time is a popular Kodi add-on that offers P2P streaming. I used it to watch the public domain movie Night of the Living Dead. It took a few minutes to load since there weren’t many seeders, but it played back perfectly once it was loaded.
I also unblocked Peacock, Paramount+, Crunchyroll, and several other platforms. It even works well with Twitch. After I hopped on the Vegas server, I was able to jump into a livestream of the music producer Decap without any loading times.
I made several attempts, but I just couldn’t unblock ESPN+ or ITV. The UK Manchester and the UK London Streaming servers let me access the ITV website. However, as soon as I’d click on a show like Emmerdale it would tell me it’s unavailable. I know this isn’t true because I can access it with other VPNs. I reached out to Private Internet Access’ live chat for some help with this problem.
The support agent told me to disconnect and reconnect to get a new IP address. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. They also told me that there are some streaming services PIA just doesn’t support and ESPN+ is one of them. While I was impressed with how many platforms it could unblock, ExpressVPN is more reliable for unblocking streaming platforms (and never caused my streams to lag).
Server Network — One of the Largest Server Lists of Any VPN
It has a huge server list with great global coverage, so you’ll be able to access content from around the world. Private Internet Access claims to have the largest server network of any VPN. It offers an impressive 29,650 servers in 84 countries.
The server size is vast, but it’s important to note that it only has 84 locations. So, there are VPNs out there with less servers, but a lot more server locations. For example, CyberGhost has 7,928 servers in 91 countries; ExpressVPN offers 3,000 servers in 94 countries, so there are VPNs with better global coverage available.
PIA has most of its servers in North America and Europe, but there’s still strong worldwide coverage. Having so many servers improves speeds because it prevents overcrowding, which can slow your speeds down. It also makes it harder for streaming services to flag IPs they notice being used by multiple people. Plus, it makes it easier to find a server close to you, which will give you the best speeds.
PIA also has an option to sign up for a Dedicated IP. This will give you an IP address that only you use and helps prevent constant CAPTCHA checks and getting flagged on safe sites. It costs $5 extra per month, and it only offers IPs in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany. It’s not a bad price (CyberGhost offers it for the same), but it’s too bad it’s not available in more locations.
Private Internet Access has virtual servers in 35 locations. There are 121 locations total, so virtual locations make up about 25%. That’s not bad, and I don’t have a problem with virtual locations. However, there are VPNs that don’t use any if it concerns you.
One negative of having virtual locations is that it might lower your speeds. Since the server is actually in another country, it might be farther away from you than it appears, which means your data will have to travel farther.
On the positive side, having virtual locations allows PIA to offer locations in countries where it can be unsafe to have physical servers. It used to have physical servers in Brazil and Russia but removed them over privacy concerns. You can still use locations in these countries, but it’s now done through virtual servers.
Private Internet Access also owns all of its servers, so you don’t have to worry about a third party handling your data. Most VPNs use outside companies to handle at least a few of their servers, and some VPNs only use rented servers. It also gives you the option to use DNS servers owned by the company. Plus, all of its servers are RAM-based, so every time a server gets rebooted its data is erased. This is safer than servers with hard drives that are more complicated to wipe. All the work put into these servers is impressive and shows that Private Internet Access is dedicated to protecting your data.
Speeds — Decent on Local Servers, but Speeds Drop at Long Distances
Private Internet Access is pretty fast on local servers, but long distance servers can lower your speeds considerably. I performed all of my tests on a Microsoft Surface Laptop running Windows 10. The app was set to the OpenVPN UDP protocol with 128-bit encryption because it gave me the best speeds compared to other protocols.
Auto-connect will set you up on the fastest server available. I was impressed with how well this worked. When I used it, I was connected to a Seattle server. This surprised me because there are much closer locations. However, when I tested out the closer servers (Las Vegas and California), Seattle was much faster. So, this feature works as advertised.
Overall, my speeds dropped a little more than I expected. On the closer servers, I had an average percentage drop of 34 percent. This increased to a 64 percent decrease from my normal connection rates on long distance locations. It’s normal for a VPN to drop your speeds around 10-20 percent, so this isn’t a great result. I still had average download speeds above 20 Mbps, so I didn’t notice much difference while streaming or browsing. However, if you have a slower base internet speed (say 25 Mbps), a 64 percent drop in speed would probably be more notiecable.
You can usually connect to local or long-distance servers quickly. The average time it took to connect to a local server was 3 seconds, and the distant servers were just a little bit slower at 5 seconds. However, occasionally I would encounter a server that took a while like the India server, which took 14 seconds in my test. I also tested out Private Internet Access’ video conferencing capabilities, and it worked well. The video and audio on Zoom worked with only a slight delay, which is comparable to my normal experience.
With the VPN connected, my ping rate increased by 29 ms, which still isn’t too bad. My upload speed also fell by nearly 3 Mbps.
47 (62% increase)
67.32 (10% decrease)
9.02 (23% decrease)
On my next test, I tried out the Las Vegas server, which is about 2,000 km closer to me than Seattle. My ping rate was better, and the upload speed was almost identical to Seattle. However, the download speed fell by a little over 50 percent.
Las Vegas, US:
21 (14% increase)
32.66 (56% decrease)
8.78 (26% decrease)
The final local server I tested was in Vancouver, 1773 km away. The download rate was much better. It was only a 35 percent drop from my original speed. The ping was the same as the Seattle location, but my upload rate was 0 Mbps, which is concerning.
47 (62% increase)
48.33 (35% decrease)
0.00 (100% decrease)
Overall, my local tests show that Private Internet Access can achieve good speeds with servers close to you, although it’s pretty inconsistent. I recommend using the auto-connect feature to ensure you get the best speeds.
PIA’s speeds didn’t drop significantly until the server was over 4,000 km away. The Florida server is 3,660 km away from me, and its speeds held up well. However, the speeds dropped by a lot after that.
86 (478% increase)
51.09 (31% decrease)
11.20 (5% decrease)
The next server I tested was in London, 8,704 km away. This is where my speed took a big dip. My download rate was 80 percent slower than my test without a VPN. For comparison, I was able to increase my speeds by 10 percent with a London server using ExpressVPN. So, I was pretty disappointed with this result.
145 (805% increase)
14.97 (80% decrease)
10.84 (8% decrease)
The Tokyo server is almost the same distance away, but it was much faster, although it still gave me more than a 70 percent decrease in speed, which is not good.
124 (688% increase)
23.73 (72% decrease)
10.07 (15% decrease)
The server in Sao Paulo had a very high ping rate and slow upload speeds. It’s 9,805 km away from me, but I still didn’t notice much difference when streaming or browsing.
Are PIA’s Speeds Fast Enough for Gaming? Yes, but Not on Long-Distance Servers
You can use nearby servers to play online games, but long-distance locations make gaming impossible. I used the Seattle server to play Hearthstone with a ping rate of only 47 ms. It’s difficult to play online with a ping rate over 100 ms. It took 2 minutes to find a match. With no VPN connected, I can get a match in 30 seconds or less most of the time. However, once the game loaded up, I was able to play just fine without any lag.
Next, I tried using servers in Florida and Tokyo. I waited 5 minutes to find a match, and it wouldn’t even load. So, it’s possible to game with Private Internet Access, but only on local servers.
Security — Good, With Several Customization Options
Private Internet Access has some strong, adjustable security options. It offers multiple encryption levels and protocols that can be mixed and matched. PIA also has split tunneling and a kill switch. On top of that, I consider Private Internet Access safe since it has several open-source apps, and it passed all of my leak tests.
Private Internet Access offers military-grade 256-bit encryption, which makes it impossible for anyone to spy on your data. With the OpenVPN protocol, the default setting is 128-bit encryption, but I recommend moving it up to 256-bit. I didn’t find any difference in speeds during my tests, so there’s no reason not to use the highest level of encryption for the highest level of protection. If you’re using WireGuard, the encryption level is always 256-bit.
In addition, you can no longer change the handshake settings or choose between a few data authentication options. Private Internet Access removed this customization option to fix compatibility issues and make the VPN more stable. While these were nice options for advanced users, I don’t see it as a problem. Now, the VPN defaults to the most secure settings (GCM ciphers and the RSA-4096 certificate), so you’ll still get top-notch security. The same level is used for both protocols.
I didn’t find any DNS, WebRTC or IP leaks. After performing tests with 4 virtual locations and 6 bare-metal servers, PIA never leaked any of my vital information. The tests I conducted show you which IP addresses are visible to the websites you visit (which can be easily accessed by people who want to steal your data).
The only IPs that showed up were the ones I was connected to on the VPN.
Open Source Apps
Several of its apps are open source, which makes them safer because anyone can check them for security vulnerabilities. So far, the Firefox and Chrome extensions, its desktop apps, and the app for Android devices have been made open source. Making these applications open source shows that Private Internet Access is transparent with its customers and communities concerned with internet security.
Reliable Kill Switch
The kill switch blocks your internet traffic if the VPN gets disconnected. This is an essential feature because it ensures there’s never a chance for hackers to steal your data because your real IP can’t be accidentally leaked. For my tests, I kept a browser open while I switched servers and the page wouldn’t load if the VPN was still connecting. That’s how I knew it was working.
This feature lets you route some traffic through the VPN tunnel, and the rest through your regular connection. I like to keep my banking app outside of the VPN, so my account isn’t blocked, for example.
It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and you can exempt apps (not websites) on Android and iOS devices.
Protocols — 3 Good Options
You can use OpenVPN and WireGuard on every app; these are strong protocols, but other VPNs offer more. Protocols are a set of rules your VPN follows that tell it how to encrypt your traffic. OpenVPN is the safest because it’s open source, so it’s constantly checked for vulnerabilities.
WireGuard can sometimes be faster, but OpenVPN beat it in my speed tests. In addition to WireGuard and OpenVPN, the iOS app has access to IPsec (IKEv2). This is an older protocol that can be faster, but I don’t recommend it because it’s less secure.
MACE Ad Blocker — Only Blocks Some Ads
The ad blocker won’t remove all ads. In the app, PIA claims MACE blocks trackers, malware, and ads. However, while it worked to block ads on several sites I tested when I put it through an advanced test, many ads still got through.
It also doesn't give you the ability to whitelist (exempt sites or apps). Plus, I was disappointed that it can’t block ads on YouTube videos, so I’d recommend using a separate ad blocker with PIA.
InBrowser — Fast Incognito Browsing for Mobile Devices
Private Internet Access also offers its own incognito browser called InBrowser. It’s only available for Android and iOS. It can work in conjunction with the TOR network, and it deletes your history, cookies, and session data every time you log off.
It doubled the speeds on my phone (from 22.81 Mbps with Chrome to 46.49 Mbps with InBrowser). I was surprised with how fast it was. Incognito browsers are usually a little faster because they don’t run as many extensions. However, the incognito browser on Chrome is only 17 percent faster on average for me (while InBrowser was 102 percent faster). InBrowser is a nice addition, but you should use it with the VPN. It will only protect your browser and not fully encrypt the device like the VPN will.
Privacy — A Proven No-Logs Policy, but It’s Located in the US
Does Private Internet Access Keep Logs? No
Private Internet Access doesn’t store any information that can be used to identify you. It only retains your email address, payment details, state and zip code (for tax purposes), and anonymized data used to improve the service. For maximum security, you can even create a new email address and pay with cryptocurrency. On top of that, it states that it will never rent or sell any customer's information.
It has a strict no-logs policy that has been verified in court. In 2016, the FBI requested information about a user, and Private Internet Access couldn’t provide any data on their activities because none were stored.
While this court case proves the no-logging policy, it would be nice if it underwent an independent audit. However, it does publish regular transparency reports that tell you any time data is requested from the company, and it’s never had anything to share.
Ownership and Company History
Kape Technologies owns Private Internet Access. Kape used to be called Crossrider and worked in mobile ads and browser extension development. In 2018, it received backlash when its software was used by hackers to bundle adware into some of its downloads.
However, since the name change, the company no longer works in advertising and now focuses on VPNs. Kape also owns CyberGhost and ExpressVPN, 2 other trustworthy VPNs. Plus, I ran tests on the app, and it was completely free of malware.
Based in the US
Private Internet Access operates out of the United States, which isn’t the most privacy-friendly country. The US was one of the founding members of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance. This is a pact between governments where they promise to share information on people they’re suspicious of.
However, Private Internet Access has a strong no-logs policy that has been proven many times. It has operated for over a decade without ever storing or sharing any identifiable information on its users, so I trust them with my data.
Torrenting — Download on Any Server with Fast Speeds
I could download files on P2P networks super fast while connected to Private Internet Access. In my test, I found a torrent of Night of the Living Dead. It’s a 700MB file, and it took less than 10 minutes to complete.
It also lets you use port forwarding, which can really improve your speeds. This lets you access more seeders. After I turned it on, I was downloading twice as fast. However, my upload speeds never changed, staying under 3 kB/s. This is normal for me, so the VPN didn’t affect it.
There is also the option to use a SOCKS5 proxy, but I don’t recommend it. The way proxies work with PIA is as a double-hop, meaning it sends your connection to the proxy before moving it through the VPN tunnel. This slows down your speeds by quite a bit (91 percent for me). Even if you could connect directly to the proxy, it’s not a good idea because it wouldn’t encrypt your traffic.
You can torrent on any server with unlimited bandwidth. This is nice because many VPNs only let you torrent on a select few locations. I was able to download with BitTorrent, Deluge, and Transmission and the MACE ad blocker worked well to block ads on these programs, too. Overall, it’s a solid option I’d recommend if you plan to torrent often.
You won’t be able to use Private Internet Access in China. A customer support agent confirmed it doesn’t reliably work in the country. They also stated it doesn’t work in other restrictive countries like Turkey, the UAE, or Egypt.
Every app is super easy to use, letting you auto-connect to a server with one click. After you access the server list by clicking the map, you can “favorite” servers for easy access. You can sort the servers alphabetically, by latency, or based on your favorites.
On a desktop, you can rearrange the categories by dragging the three green lines in the corner. These categories include encryption settings, your subscription plan, data usage, along with quick settings that vary depending on the device. This is a nice touch that is pretty rare among VPNs. It lets you keep the data most important to you available without having to expand the app.
There’s also a snooze button on each app, which lets you turn off the VPN for a set amount of time. You can set it up if you need to access your bank without a VPN and have it automatically reconnect in a few minutes.
You can choose between 19 languages, including English, Japanese, French, and Spanish. It also comes with light and dark modes. The Android and iOS apps will automatically choose a mode based on your phone’s settings.
Best of all, it has a full GUI for Linux, so you use the app the same way you would on a Mac or Windows app.
Simultaneous Device Connections — Connect up to 10 Devices
You can use Private Internet Access on up to 10 devices at the same time. To test it out, I connected my Fire TV, 2 laptops, my phone, and a friend’s. I started streaming shows on each one, and I never noticed any difference in the playback quality. It’s a standout feature since many VPNs only let you use 5 devices.
Device Compatibility — Good Apps for Every Major OS
Native apps are available for every major operating system, and they’re all full-featured.
Windows: This app has all of the features Private Internet Access offers. It can be downloaded for Windows 8.1 or 10 in 32 or 64-bit versions.
Android: Android users won't get the MACE ad blocker if they buy it through the Play Store (due to Google's rules on apps interfering with other apps). However, downloading an APK file of the app from Private Internet Access directly gives you a version with MACE. The Android app can also access InBrowser. In addition, it lets you auto-connect with your chosen apps. The Android app is available for version 5.1+.
Mac: It is nearly identical to the Windows app, except split tunneling takes a few more steps. The Mac app requires 64-bits and is available for High Sierra 10.13+.
iOS: There is no MACE, but the iOS app has InBrowser and Safari Content Blocker. This is an ad blocker which can block some ads, but not everything. You can also connect to the IPsec (IKEv2) protocol. Plus, Siri can be programmed to connect and disconnect. Lastly, Network Management Tools let you auto-connect on specific Wi-Fi or mobile networks.
Linux: This is one of the only VPNs to feature a full GUI for Linux. It works just like the Windows version and comes with all the same features. The only thing it’s missing is the built-in resolver for DNS. It’s compatible with Ubuntu 18.04+ (LTS), Mint, Debian, Fedora, and Arch.
Browser Extensions: Windows and Mac users can download browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Each extension has identical features. The server list is limited, but they offer several unique security options that aren’t available in the VPN app. You can block WebRTC IP detection and disable access to your microphone, camera, or location. These are a nice addition, but they won’t offer full encryption, so I recommend using them along with the VPN.
Routers: It can be downloaded on TP-Link, DD-WRT, Tomato, Pfsense, LEDE and AsusWRT routers to connect any device on your network. Preinstalled routers can also be purchased from the website. With the VPN on your router, you can easily connect devices without native apps like Roku or Apple TV.
Other devices: SmartDNS is the easiest way to change locations on any WiFi-enabled device. This feature lets you choose from 5 locations to access geo-blocked content on a PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Apple TV, or your smartTV. However, keep in mind this doesn’t encrypt your connection, so it’s not as safe as using the VPN. There’s also a native app for Fire TV Stick.
Setup & Installation — Straightforward and Fast
Installing the app on mobile or desktop devices was always quick and easy. You can sign up in 5 minutes, and it never took me longer than 10 seconds to complete the installation.
SmartDNS was just as simple to set up. On the website, you choose a device and a location, and you’ll be given a DNS address that can change your location. All you have to do is enter the DNS number you’re given into the settings on your smart TV, streaming device, or gaming console.
You’ll need to flash the firmware on your router to install the VPN on it, which can be a little risky. I was able to add it on my TP-Link, but it can void your warranty or cause technical issues if something goes wrong. I’d recommend using SmartDNS first because of the risks.
Private Internet Access has 3 plans: monthly, yearly, and 3-year. The 2-year plan is $2.19/month and comes with PIA Anti-Virus and Boxcryptor. Boxcryptor gives you the ability to encrypt your cloud data on services like Google Drive, iCloud, and Dropbox. The 1-month plan is more than 3 times the cost of the 2-year plan, and it doesn’t come with Boxcryptor or the Anti-Virus software. So, it’s really not a great value, especially if you’re interested in a long-term subscription.
Overall, I recommend the 2 year plan. It’s one of the cheaper subscriptions you can get for that length of time. Plus, it comes with Boxcryptor. Private Internet Access accepts all major credit cards, PayPal, gift cards, Bitcoin, and several other payment methods.
Each subscription plan comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, too.
I tested out its refund policy to make sure it’s trustworthy and to see if it would be any hassle. I contacted support over 24/7 live chat and asked for my money back after using the monthly plan for 3 weeks. The live support agent asked one troubleshooting question before processing my refund. I was impressed that all the money was back in my PayPal account in 1 day. The guarantee is legit, so you can rely on PIA to get your money back if you’re not satisfied. However, be aware if you use Apple Pay, your refund will have to be processed by Apple.
The live chat support is good when it works, but 50% of the time no one answered my requests. If no one answers, then the window closes and you’re encouraged to send an email with the ticketing system. However, when I could reach the chat, the staff was informative and answered quickly. For example, I was able to process my refund in less than 5 minutes.
When I used the ticketing system, it usually took 6 hours or more to receive a response.
The Bottom Line
Final Verdict: Great Price for Customizable Security on Any Device
Private Internet Access provides strong security with several customization options. Plus, its large server network is great for torrenting since every location allows P2P downloads. I was even able to download twice as fast with its port forwarding option. On top of that, it has full-featured versions for every major OS, including one of the best Linux apps around.
There are a few flaws. The customer support is hit-or-miss. On top of that, it has inconsistent speeds on local servers, and it’s really slow on long-distance ones.
Overall, I recommend Private Internet Access if you want to torrent on a wide variety of devices safely, and at a great price.
It’s based in the United States. This isn’t the most privacy-friendly country since it was a founding member of the 14 Eyes Alliance. However, the VPN has a strict no-logs policy. Its transparency reports show that every time it's been ordered to hand over data to the government, it simply can’t because it has nothing to share.
Yes, Private Internet Access is a great VPN if you’re looking to stream and torrent on a wide variety of devices.You’ll get a full-featured app on every major OS, including a version for Linux with a full GUI. It has an extensive server network that can unblock US Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and more. Plus, it offers military-grade encryption that will keep your data safe and has a proven no-logs policy.