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Private Internet Access review: fast and affordable VPN with issues
[Image: private-internet-access-website.webp]

Private Internet Access, short PIA, is a commercial VPN service, established in 2009, with desktop programs for Windows, Mac and Linux devices, mobile apps for Android and iOS, and options to set up the service manually on modems, routers, NAS and other platforms.

Private Internet Access at a glance
  • Open-Source VPN client
  • Use on up to 10 devices simultaneously
  • Servers in 78 countries
  • no-logs policy, unverified by third-party audits
  • state of the art protocol support
  • Supports anonymous payments (gift cards and cryptocurrencies)
  • P2P support
  • no bandwidth restrictions
  • Kill Switch support
  • Split-tunneling support
  • Servers optimized for streaming
  • Browser extensions
  • VPN snooze feature
  • Only Live Chat and Email support
  • Based in the United States
  • Parent company has checkered past
Private Internet Access features

Like most commercial VPN services, Private Internet Access gives users different options when it comes to the available plans. All plans support the same feature set, and the only differentiating factor is price and the subscription period.

One month subscriptions are more expensive than 1-year or 3-year subscriptions. In fact, you pay about a third of the price if you subscribe for a period of a year, and about less than a quarter of the monthly price if you subscribe for three years. PIA offers a 30-days money back guarantee on all plans.

PIA customers may pay by credit card, PayPal, or by using cryptocurrencies (Bitpay, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin). An option to pay using gift cards is also provided, but not on the default account sign-up page.

Customers may add a dedicated IP address to their subscription for €5 per month; this costs more than the actual plan if paid for a year or three years. Dedicated IP addresses offer advantages, including “faster connection speeds”, getting “off blacklists” and never running into “crowded servers” connection problems according to Private Internet Access. A potential downside is that these dedicated IP addresses may be linked to a particular customer, as they are assigned exclusively.

Private Internet Access customers may install dedicated clients for Windows, Apple Macintosh and Linux devices, use mobile apps for Android or iOS, install browser extensions, or configure the VPN service manually on devices such as routers or modems that support it.

The company has released its code on GitHub to improve trust and transparency. It uses open source protocols, the state of the art WireGuard protocol but also OpenVPN.

Private Internet Access supports P2P traffic, but does not offer P2P optimized servers.

PIA: clients and supported protocols

The client displays all available server locations and ping values in its connection interface. Besides an option to connect automatically, users may select a regional server to connect to it.

The default protocol of the service is OpenVPN, but users may switch to WireGuard. OpenVPN comes with configuration options in the client to increase the strength of encryption from AES-128 to AES-256, and to increase the strength of the authentication and handshake functionality from RSA-2048 to RSA-4096.

Browser extensions are available for Chrome, Firefox and Google Chrome. These complement the VPN and include the following functionality:
  • Enable / Disable the VPN connection in the browser.
  • Whitelist functionality to connect to sites directly (without using the VPN).
  • Block WebRTC to avoid IP leaks.
  • Sort gateways by latency.
The ability to bypass the VPN for select connections is useful, e.g. to access regionally blocked content, for Internet banking or shopping activity.

Private Internet Access’ client can be configured to launch on system start and to connect automatically when the application is loaded.

The Windows desktop client supports a snooze feature to disable the VPN for a period of time before enabling it again automatically.

Private Internet Access: servers

Private Internet Access operates streaming optimized servers in select locations, including the UK, US, Japan and Sweden. These servers are optimized for streaming media and unblocking content that is region-restricted. Check out the streaming section to find out how these servers performed in particular, and whether you can use them to unblock streaming content.

The company does not operate other specialized servers, e.g. for P2P, or double-connection servers for increased privacy and security.

Private Internet Access Privacy and security features

Private Internet Access supports a range of security and privacy features. PIA supports the WireGuard protocol, the state of the art protocol that is open source and promising better performance and security. WireGuard was not the default protocol on the Windows test system, but you can switch to it in the Settings under Connection Preferences.

Automation – configure rules to connect or disconnect the VPN connection for specific networks, e.g. to always disconnect the VPN connection when at home, and to always connect when at work.
Change OpenVPN connection parameters – Private Internet Access users may change parameters such as the algorithm used to encrypt data, connection type, remote port, proxy, or configuration method in the options.
DNS – Private Internet Access’ clients use the company’s own DNS service by default. Users may set up a different DNS provider in the settings under Network.
Kill Switch – The Private Internet Access client blocks traffic that is not using the VPN by default. Users may switch to the blocking of all traffic, or turn the feature off. Internet connections of apps that don’t use the VPN are blocked by default.
PIA Mace – A built-in blocker that blocks advertisement, malware and trackers using DNS. Off by default.
Split Tunneling – Split Tunneling may be used to configure apps to bypass the VPN connection, or to always use it.

Configured in the client’s network preferences, PIA users have two options to use split tunneling:
  • Allow select applications to connect to the Internet directly, bypassing the VPN.
  • Allow select applications to only connect to the Internet through the VPN.
You can use the feature to configure apps such as Netflix or Amazon Prime to always use a VPN connection to access regional content, or to never use the VPN connection for local shopping sites or Internet banking.

Private Internet Access’ Transparency Report lists the number of court orders, subpoenas and warrants it has received. According to the information, it has received 2 court orders, 12 subpoenas and 3 warrants, and did not share any data with the authorities because of its no-logging policy.
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