Private Internet Access (or PIA for short) is a very popular VPN provider. But the company isn’t without considerable controversy – and that controversy is reaching a fever pitch right now.
Some review sites are trying to quietly sweep it under the carpet, focusing on the positives and wilfully failing to properly inform their readers of some very concerning history and future developments.
This isn’t a surprise to us, as we know many of them base their “reviews” on how much money a VPN provider is giving them through affiliate partnership deals.
But this is dishonest. Worse, it puts you at risk if you decide to trust these fake reviews.
So if you’re looking for a 100% honest Private Internet Access VPN review, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dig in!
Private Internet Access Overview
- 3000+ servers
- Military-grade encryption
- Fast speeds
- Questionable company history
- 12 month plan - £3.33 per month (£39.95 total cost)
- 1 month plan - £9.95 per month (£9.95 total cost)
Take a look at How We Rate VPN Providers!
How PIA Compare to the Competition
How to Alienate Your Customers: Hire a Fraudster and Sell Out to Malware Producers
It seems like a tongue-in-cheek how-to guide on what not to do as a business. Unfortunately, it could easily be the title of an in-depth look at Private Internet Access.
Hiring a Fraudster as CTO
In April 2018, Private Internet Access upset many of its users by hiring Mark Karpeles as its new Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
Karpeles was previously in charge of a major cryptocurrency exchange, Mt. Gox, which suddenly collapsed in 2014… resulting in 650,000 Bitcoins (worth millions of dollars) mysteriously disappearing.
Not long after, Karpeles was arrested in Japan under charges of fraud and embezzlement.
It might seem like old news by now, but in 2019, a Japanese court found Karpeles guilty of electronically tampering with financial records.
He received a suspended 2-and-a-half-year sentence, which “he won’t have to serve unless he commits another violation within 4 years.”
Private Internet Access’s co-founder, Andrew Lee, published a blog post explaining the VPN provider decided to hire Karpeles on the basis of “Mistakes, Forgiveness and Human Progress.”
That’s not quite enough in the world of online privacy, though. And this is an opinion shared by many others.
Do you really want a convicted fraudster known for tampering with company records handling your data? We don’t.
Selling Out to Malware Producers
More recently, Kape Technologies said it’s “delighted to announce the transformational acquisition of Private Internet Access (PIA)” in a post that now redirects to a different type of announcement (which we’ll get to in a bit).
You can still see the opening text as the meta description on any search engine results page:
Click the link and you get redirected to the following:
This is telling, as Kape Technologies is now renaming itself Private Internet as PIA’s parent company. It’s a huge leap from what usually happens in mergers and acquisitions, which are typically designed to boost the parent company’s name.
So why is Kape Technologies making the change?
Quite simple: it’s another desperate attempt to distance itself from its past, when Kape Technologies was still called Crossrider.
Crossrider became Kape Technologies in 2018, sometime before the company acquired ZenMate VPN (full review). In March 2017, Crossrider also acquired CyberGhost VPN (full review). Now, in 2020, PIA becomes the company’s third VPN.
But Crossrider was never known as a VPN company.
Instead, it produced and sold “a highly configurable method for its clients to monetize their software” through malware and adware hidden in its software bundles.
A year after the CyberGhost acquisition, Malwarebytes published another post warning the public that Crossrider was targeting Mac computers with fake Adobe Flash Player installers.
The company’s majority shareholder, Teddy Sagi, was jailed for insider trading in the 1990s. He and Crossrider’s co-founder and CEO, Koby Menachemi, also served in Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the NSA.
These are not the type of people you want pulling the strings behind your VPN provider.
However, we still stand by our estimation of CyberGhost as one of the best overall VPNs on the market. In the years since being acquired by Crossrider/Kape Technologies, the provider continued to prove itself worthy of the recommendation despite its parent company.
ZenMate, on the other hand, needs improvement before we’d recommend it.
Even though this is not entirely due to being owned by Kape Technologies (though that is a factor), it’s interesting to see this dynamic.
Christel Dahlskjaer, PIA’s Chief Communications Officer (CCO), published a blog post promising things will only get better for the VPN. Only time will tell if that’s true, but many of the provider’s customers are far from happy.
Located in a 5 Eyes Jurisdiction
Getting into the usual nitty-gritty of our reviews, let’s open with the fact that PIA is based in one of the worst countries for online privacy: the US.
There’s been some confusion here, as (until Kape Technologies acquisition goes through) PIA listed London Trust Media, Inc. as its parent company. However, the company is based in Denver, Colorado:
Kape Technologies is an Israeli company. This isn’t much better, as Israel is a known (albeit “unofficial”) 5 Eyes ally. Regardless, PIA says it will continue to operate as an American company:
(From the comments on PIA’s The Continually Evolving Fight for Freedom acquisition announcement post)
No matter which way you look at it, this isn’t great.
Strict No-Logs Policy
In Caleb’s comment (the screenshot above), he mentions following the acquisition by Kape Technologies, PIA will still adhere to their strict no-logs policy.
Plenty of VPN providers promise not to keep logs, but their actual policy and/or actions prove otherwise (take a look at PureVPN, for example).
None of this is out of the ordinary and it’s practically impossible to run a website or online service without this kind of information.
If this stays true following the acquisition remains to be seen.
For the time being, we’re willing to agree with PIA in making an exception to our “no 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes VPN providers” rule.
Military-Grade Encryption and the Best VPN Protocols
Now we finally get to a few areas where the acquisition isn’t likely to have any effect: the encryption and VPN protocols PIA uses.
As far as encryption is concerned, PIA has been using 256-AES GCM (Advanced Encryption Standard, Galois-Counter Mode) since March 2019. We’re glad to see this, as it’s considered the most secure encryption standard currently available and is used by the military as well.
PIA doesn’t go into any serious details regarding the VPN protocols it uses, but we can confirm OpenVPN, IPSec, L2TP, and PPTP are available to all users (iOS users were originally limited to IPSec).
We strongly recommend only using OpenVPN. IPSec should be your begrudging second-choice (we’d prefer IKEv2).
Never use L2TP or PPTP, as these are highly unsecure.
Kill Switch, Split Tunneling, DNS Leak Protection
PIA also does well when it comes to the implementation of other important security features.
For starters, the kill switch offers 3 settings:
- Off – if your connection to the VPN server is interrupted, your device will still exchange data with the internet via an unsecured connection
- Auto – as long as your VPN is on, the kill switch will prevent your device from connecting to the internet if the connection to the VPN server is interrupted
- Always – even if your VPN app is closed, your device will be unable to connect to the internet
We strongly recommend using the “Always” setting to make sure you never use an unsecured connection.
If you do have any apps you want to bypass the VPN (even when connected to a PIA server), you can create an exception with the split tunnel feature.
We’d prefer to see an option for excluding websites instead (unless, like us, you have more than one browser installed, in which case you can create an exception for one and use it to access websites you don’t want to run through the VPN connection).
As a general rule, the split tunnel feature should only be used by advanced VPN users.
We couldn’t find any information as to whether the feature is also available for mobile users, unfortunately, and PIA’s live chat feature doesn’t seem to be working (with any of our browsers):
One of the browsers we have installed is The Onion Router (TOR), which creates a proxy connection and routes internet use through 3 remote servers.
Long story short, it helps obfuscate our location and partially encrypt our connection.
There are issues with using TOR, but in the absence of a Double VPN feature, it’s a fairly good substitute. But that’s only if you use the TOR-over-VPN method by connecting to the TOR network after first connecting to a VPN server.
For that to work, your VPN also needs to be TOR-compatible. Some VPN providers actively prevent users from using the TOR-over-VPN method, which is always a red flag for us as it usually means the provider is logging user activity.
PIA doesn’t have a Double VPN feature, unfortunately. But we’re happy to say PIA actually encourages users to use the TOR-over-VPN method and is fully transparent about its pros and cons.
Thousands of Server Connections
PIA currently has “3,266 VPN and Proxy servers in 49 locations across 29 countries.”
We’re not overly thrilled about the inclusion of proxy servers, but the fact there are more than 3,000 servers in PIA’s network means we’re generally happy.
We do wish they had servers in more countries though, as Africa and South America are currently excluded in their entirety. Ideally, we prefer a VPN to have servers in around 60 countries, the general industry standard.
Still, even though nearly half of the servers are located in the US alone, PIA’s server network is big enough that you should be able to avoid network overload.
Testing a VPN’s server speeds is always a tricky business. Your device, the distance between yourself and the VPN server, your internet connection, and even the time of day are just a few examples of the different factors that can affect results.
For that reason, we always use the same devices on the same internet connection to test VPNs for our reviews. We also test the same server locations and do so a couple times a day.
Even so, bear in mind you might have slightly different results when using PIA:
Device Compatibility and Connections
PIA does well with its device compatibility:
- Chrome (browser extension)
- Firefox (browser extension)
- Opera (browser extension)
Notably, routers aren’t mentioned anywhere here. However, we did find this FAQ that includes setup guides for getting PIA onto your router.
PIA is very generous by giving users 10 simultaneous connections as is. But if you have even more devices you want to protect, PIA says using your router (rather than connecting via the device’s app) will only count as 1 connection.
Subscription Plans and Pricing
There are the usual 3 subscription plans available:
This makes PIA one of the most affordable premium VPNs available. You can even pay with Bitcoin or major brand gift cards for anonymity.
However, PIA has a 7-day refund policy, no exceptions.
Streaming and Torrenting
Streaming and torrenting are two of the most popular reasons users want a VPN in the first place.
There aren’t any specialized streaming servers, so we tested a few US- and UK-based servers for Netflix and BBC iPlayer. Unfortunately, the streaming services’ proxy detection software blocked us every time.
Torrenting was a different story.
Again, there aren’t any specialized P2P/Torrent servers available, but we were able to establish a P2P connection without any issues.
Even so, we recommend using one of the best torrenting VPNs instead.
Usability and Support
Overall, we found PIA’s usability to be top-notch.
The app was easy to install and just as easy to use.
VPN beginners and advanced users alike will appreciate the interface layout and design.
Support, unfortunately, is another matter.
As mentioned earlier, PIA’s live chat feature didn’t work on any of our browsers no matter what time of day we tried.
The email ticketing form is also very, very invasive and requires a lot of personally identifiable information in exchange for a long wait and friendly (though not particularly helpful) answers.
PIA’s Knowledgebase is fairly extensive at least, but we’d prefer to have the live chat feature working 24/7.
How to Cancel PIA and Get Your Money Back
Private Internet Access is a good VPN with the potential of being great.
However, if Kape Technologies acquisition has you wanting to join the ranks of other PIA users cancelling their subscriptions, here’s what to do:
- Log into your PIA Account
- Click “Cancel Subscription” at the bottom
- Provide a reason when prompted and click “Complete Cancellation”
- Open a Support Ticket requesting a refund and provide the information requested by the support agent
Please remember PIA only issues refunds within 7 days of your order.
How much does PIA cost per month?
PIA costs $9.95 per month.
Does PIA work for Netflix?
No, PIA does not work for Netflix.
Is PIA legitimate?
Yes, though there are some concerns regarding the Kape Technologies acquisition.
Is PIA a good VPN?
Yes, though not one of the best.
Does PIA hide my IP address?
Yes, PIA will replace your IP address with that of the VPN server you connect to.
Does PIA charge monthly?
Yes, though you can also get slight discounts with the 6-month or 1-year subscriptions.
Is PIA a zero-logs VPN?
Yes, PIA has proven itself to be a zero-logs VPN.
Can you cancel PIA anytime?
Yes, though please be aware PIA only issues refunds if requested in the first 7 days.
Is PIA safe in China?
No, users in China and other restricted jurisdictions have complained that PIA does not work reliably for them.