PRIVATE INTERNET ACCESS REVIEW: What did the change of owner affect? Features overview
|Pros of Private Internet Access||Cons of Private Internet Access|
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a large multiplatform paid service that offers a Virtual Private Network (VPN) with expanded encryption settings.
- What does PIA look like in 2020?
- Why was it sold to the owner of CyberGhost VPN?
- Why is it still considered one of the fastest and safest providers?
In this review, I will tell you about the most interesting recent events that have happened to Private Internet Access recently. I’ll also test its features and characteristics, describe its price fluctuations, and give some helpful advice on its use.
It’s still too early to judge how the change of the owner has affected PIA but one thing remains the same as it was: the high level of security on most OSs (except for Android*):
A lot has changed since our last test of PIA which was 3 months ago:
- Netflix support has worsened significantly.
- Hulu support has vanished altogether.
- The Android app doesn’t protect from IP leaks under certain conditions.
This Private Internet Access review, I think, is the most ambiguous one published on CoolTechZone.com. Today, the provider has both undeniable pros and unpleasant cons that were not present until recently.
Read on to learn about the details of the sale of this VPN service to the international company Kape Technologies and important information on its advantages and disadvantages.
I’d like to emphasize that this is not a paid article and I am not reimbursed for it by Private Internet Access or any other VPN services. I used a regular paid subscription to conduct my tests:
You can use the quick nav menu to access any chapter of this review that you need:
- Features and opportunities
- The late 2019 sale of the service
- Private Internet Access cons
- Private Internet Access pros
- Plans and pricing
- Information about the company owner
The list of the strongest and weakest suits of the provider:
+ 256-bit encryption available and allows changing parameters
+The speed is high
+Kill Switch on every OS but iOS
+Arguably the finest settings of a VPN connection
+Extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera
+10 devices simultaneously
But at the same time:
-Connection issues in some locations
-No streaming support
-Few countries available
-The iOS version is unavailable in some regions
-No ability to choose a specific server within a location
-No obfuscation (needed to work in China and in other cases of VPN blocks); no ability to connect through Shadowsocks in Hong Kong
-Inadequate performance of the Proxy Shadowsocks function
Four important consideration should be emphasized:
- Port forwarding. It is believed that this function can help increase the torrenting speed thanks to the appearance of there being more seeders and peers. Port forwarding is also indispensable in gaming quite often.
- Ability to fine-tune the VPN connection. Several unique settings that are available together only in Private Internet Access allow tuning or turning off encryption, DHCP, data authentication, handshake (including for the DNS), and many other parameters.
- Weak Netflix support, no support of Hulu and other streaming services.
- Unstable speeds. During my tests, certain locations would ‘’freeze’’ for several minutes multiple times. Moreover, reconnection occurred frequently.
As I said, PIA has both unique advantages and significant drawbacks. I’ll tell you about every nuance of PIA’s performance on different platforms as well as about the service’s performance in general.
You can also choose a different VPN service that doesn’t have most of the drawbacks of Private Internet Access.
Before I go into the provider’s pros and cons, I’d like to tell you about the details of the deal that took place last November. This event has not only been discussed at length by VPN users but also has affected Kape Technologies, the company that bought PIA.
The first thing I’d like to note is the stir that this event caused. Redditors are upset by Private Internet Access now being managed by Kape. They reckon that it is a serious blow on their privacy and defiantly cancel their subscriptions.
Let’s find out what’s behind it.
Several years ago, back in 2016, it came to the light that an Israeli company Crossrider (which is what Kape Technologies used to be called) spread “malicious” adware. There was a big scandal that led to the company changing its name and a myth arising online about Kape playing dirty.
But is it really true?
What is adware? It is a type of software that shows ads on users’ computers in some way. Of course, it is bad. However, it was almost considered the norm very recently. At least, it’s still easy to infect one’s PC with such software by misclicking on popular file shares.
Nevertheless, Kape isn’t involved in these activities anymore and actively develops the business of providing VPN services. Today, it is impossible to run a business the old way. So, the company’s activity doesn’t differ in any way from how other VPNs that haven’t been caught doing any shady business do things.
But this is fact rigging. The thing is, those quotes refer not to the user activity on VPN servers but to the data collected when you visit the website of the company and sign up (this data, by the way, is stored by every single VPN). Besides, the crimes mentioned are much more serious than torrenting.
Now I will show you the data about the stock value of Kape Technologies:
We can remember the past however much we want but the present tells us that the company is moving in the right direction. The investment interest in it has significantly risen since the acquisition of PIA as well as the almost simultaneous doubling of CyberGhost VPN’s infrastructure. Today, it doesn’t care about spreading adware or selling user logs.
So why was PIA sold?
We can only guess. I observe a very sharp increase in competition in the VPN market. More powerful services appear. Take a look at the popularity dynamics of NordVPN according to Google Trends (the red line).
At the same time, we see that the interest in PIA falls despite virtual private networks being in the spotlight in general nowadays. I think that the future of the service without any structural changes was shrouded in mist. We can gather more info about the provider’s difficulties from the fact that it hasn’t started to support the cutting edge WireGuard protocol despite being one of its developers.
Kape pumped almost $50 million into the acquisition of PIA but doesn’t provide any in-depth information about the service’s future. The only thing we know is that its office in the United States will be reorganized. No plans of merging its infrastructure with those of CyberGhost VPN and ZenMate have been voiced yet.
To put it short, I don’t see any reason to cancel one’s PIA subscription. However, we don’t know what the service will look like tomorrow.
Let’s look into the cons of PIA that I’ve found during the testing. Some of them only appear on a certain platform – so pay attention to when they occur.
1. A kill switch failure on Android
In the last chapter, I mentioned that some PIA users made an emotionally charged decision to unsubscribe from Private Internet Access since it was not a “perfect” VPN anymore.
Now I’m going to bust the myth about PIA being perfect.
At the bare minimum, it has issues on Android and not on an old but on the current version of the OS.
I discovered it by conducting a “real conditions” test with Cool Tech Realtime IP Logger. You can see in the picture above the list of IP addresses that are observed when using the PIA app. The Reconnect lines between them signify the moments of changing the access point or switching from Wi-Fi to cellular internet. These are completely real-life conditions that almost any mobile device user can find themselves in.
After the very first reconnect, my real IP address was seen despite the kill switch being on and supposedly protecting my connection in such cases.
Even ExpressVPN which used to have a similar issue has eliminated this vulnerability. At the same time, Private Internet Access, despite being regarded as perfect by its fans, has had this problem since the time it belonged to London Trust Media Inc.
2. Connection stability issues
Sometimes, the Internet connection failed in the Windows app. It only restored itself on its own in 3 to 5 minutes. To make the process faster, I had to turn the VPN off, restart the Wi-Fi connection, and only then turn the VPN on again.
This method also worked when I encountered another problem present on Windows 10: a sudden drop in the internet speed to 1-2 Mbps:
It’s possible that it is just a quirk of my system but I’ve never had this issue with other VPN services.
3. No streaming support
I can’t say that it is absolutely 100% impossible to unblock geo-restricted Netflix content for other regions but when I tested it, no server in the United States or Canada managed to do it. Also, using a UK-based IP address, I couldn’t even open the list of movies on Netflix.com.
The only location that worked and allowed me to watch Netflix was Australia:
However, PIA cannot be considered one of the best VPN services for Netflix now.
As for the Hulu support, Private Internet Access coped with this task as recently as last autumn:
Today, however, it doesn’t work. No US location supports Hulu:
Though CoolTechZone doesn’t test the support of every single streaming service, I checked Reddit posts on this topic. Most reviews were negative. They concerned Netflix and Hulu which I have tested as well as other popular services: Disney Plus and Amazon Prime.
4. Offers locations in only 29 countries; has left India
I was flabbergasted to learn that this really average in terms of the number of supported countries VPN had become one of the best.
Moreover, after its acquisition by Kape Technologies, it left India for reasons unspecified and still doesn’t support that country. Because of government pressure, PIA also left Russia.
It’s also not very apparent where all the 3200+ servers of the provider are located because the apps don’t allow you to access each of them individually. You can only choose a country and a location (data center) within it.
29 countries are the number expected of an average VPN service. However, PIA hasn’t reached its competitor’s figures on this parameter. It seems like its development agenda is aimed at quality rather than quantity.
5. Doesn’t work in China
Private Internet Access doesn’t support VPN protocols that help bypass the Great Firewall of China. It also doesn’t have the obfuscation feature to mask the use of the well-known OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols.
The only possible way to access the banned websites from China is the use of the Shadowsocks proxy supported by PIA. Theoretically, you can connect to a server in Hong Kong with it and go from it to any other one through a VPN channel. However, at the moment of testing, the Shadowsocks connection (under the Proxy tab) to Hong Kong didn’t work.
Therefore, PIA isn’t one of the best VPNs that work in China.
- Great security on Windows and Mac
- High speeds
- Confirmed no-logs policy
- A lot of useful settings
- Supports all the platforms
- Effective torrenting protection. Port forwarding
You could form an opinion that Private Internet Access is a VPN riddled with issues and suffering from the unlucky period of the ownership change. But it’s not entirely true. Along with the cons I’ve enumerated, it also has some sizable benefits. Using PIA in most cases is a very effective solution for privacy and security with great internet speeds.
I liked that Private Internet Access has a high level of security and privacy with the default settings. Using the Wireshark traffic interceptor, I analyzed packets going from the tested computer into the network and got a very good result.
All the traffic was sent to the VPN channel (shown in blue) and there were no packets going outside of the VPN. There are also no unencrypted website addresses in the traffic.
I got the same exact results on Mac as well.
All of this and the fact that Private Internet Access’s DNS servers are combined with its VPN ones tell that the provider is 100% safe.
Yes, it is its high speeds that spring to mind at once when I’m asked about Private Internet Access. I put this parameter second because the convenience of using VPN technology is largely dependent on it.
A perceptive reader will surely notice that I have listed connection failures and huge speed drops as the provider’s cons.
How do connection failures coexist with the great speed?
First of all, those issues did not occur very frequently during my tests and when they did, they only affected some locations.
Second of all, such failure isn’t hard to eliminate (generally, all it takes is to reconnect to the internet, wait for the auto-connection, or choose a different location) and to continue browsing without noticing the burden encryption and location protection put on speed.
Third of all, these problems are only present on Windows.
Thus, there is no discrepancy in the provider’s good speed and the presence of the aforementioned failures.
What is the speed of Private Internet Access?
I took several samples of speed in several countries at different hours. The results are in the table:
PIA speed test results
|Country||Download speed, Mbps||Upload speed, Mbps|
All the tested locations satisfy the modern requirements of a VPN speed.
The data controller does not collect or log any traffic or use of its Virtual Private Network ("VPN") or Proxy.
"But everybody claims that!" you may say and you’ll be correct.
How can we determine if a provider actually keeps no logs?
- Hack a server and take a look. We’ll refrain from doing that.
- Look for news articles about investigations of the criminal activity conducted with the help of this service.
There aren’t too many VPNs that boast their no-logs policy having been confirmed in a high-profile case but Private Internet Access is one of those that do!
Here are the proofs:
- In 2017, in the case against Ross Colby, PIA surrendered no data for the investigation because it did not log Mr. Colby’s activity.
- In 2016, in the case against Preston McWaters, Private Internet Access provided no activity logs of the defendant.
What can I add? This provider doesn’t keep logs and it is a proven fact. Its change of owner is a different matter but too little time has passed since then to arrive at any conclusion. PIA promises to continue to serve the interests of its customers.
As a technical expert, I like that PIA allows setting the VPN connection right from the app as no other VPN does.
What purpose do VPN settings serve?
- There are many cases when the protected connection either doesn’t start at all or starts at the expense of the internet connection failing. Changing the VPN provider doesn’t help. From my experience, I know that this problem is solved by choosing the correct connection parameters, UDP or TCP, changing the DNS, or changing the port.
- People often require not to use a VPN for selected apps.
- Changing the encryption level and authentication type significantly affects the VPN speed. It can be useful if your internet is slow.
Why are PIA’s settings better than other providers’?
Private Internet Access not only allows changing all the mentioned options but also provides expanded settings for advanced users:
- Port forwarding (a highly-demanded but rarely implemented function)
- Handshake in the DNS settings
- PIA MACE (anti-malicious websites and malware protection)
- Convenient extra Shadowsocks proxy or classical Socks5
I additionally tested the performance of the Shadowsocks proxy because the provider claims that it allows connecting to the proxy first and then to the VPN server. This function does work but I have two remarks to make:
1. The IP address the device connects to doesn’t always match the displayed country:
2. I could not connect to a proxy in Hong Kong.
Some of Private Internet Access’s options are set by default to emphasize security and privacy. For example, the kill switch, one of the most important features of a modern VPN, is in automatic mode which is the optimal one.
Unfortunately, many of these options are only available on Windows. I’ll tell you more about the differences between the PIA version for various platforms in the next section.
Private Internet Access offers ready-made software for all the popular platforms and allows setting up any device with VPN support manually.
Let’s get a rundown on the peculiarities and differences of all the main OSs and several other platforms.
- Private Internet Access for Windows
- Private Internet Access for Android
- Private Internet Access for Mac
- Private Internet Access for iOS
- Private Internet Access for Linux
- Private Internet Access for Chrome
- Private Internet Access for TV platforms and other devices
The version for Windows is the fullest one as all the provider’s features and options are present in it. I will use it as a benchmark when judging apps for the other OSs.
What characteristics and settings does Private Internet Access have on Windows?
+ Confirmed security
+ Fullest functionality among all the OSs
+ Choice between UDP and TCP (UDP by default) for OpenVPN
+ Expanded kill switch (2 modes; on by default)
+ Split tunneling (enabling/disabling the VPN for specific apps, currently in beta)
+ Expanded connectivity settings including turning encryption off, powerful DNS settings
+ Quick connections and automatic reconnections
+ Port forwarding support
+ DHCP available
- 29 countries available (as opposed to the last autumn’s 32)
- Occasional connection freezes, sudden reconnections
- No obfuscation or progressive VPN protocols.
My general impressions of using PIA on Windows are positive. The app affects the internet speed in such a minimal way that its work is barely noticeable. I liked how the choice of locations is realized. Despite there being no interactive world map, it is super easy to select a country from the list. The only thing that caused me a little distress was connectivity issues in some locations.
Private Internet Access for Android isn’t the best protection tool if you are always on the move. Apart from that, it is a modern and extremely functional VPN app with useful VPN connection settings.
Unfortunately, the complicated real-life conditions security test of PIA’s Android app showed that an IP address leak is possible even on the more recent versions of the OS. I have written about it in detail in the Cons of Private Internet Access section of this review.
The Android app has the following advantages and aspects that differentiate it from the version for desktops:
+ Extended useful functionality partially identical to the desktop one
+ Quick connections
- Poor kill switch performance during the test (weakened protection)
- Only OpenVPN available (one of the slowest protocols).
Generally, Private Internet Access for Android is a worthwhile VPN app that allows going beyond simply hiding one’s IP address. However, you have to be cautious while using it if you move from one access point to another or if the connection is unstable.
Private Internet Access for Mac has almost the same functionality and benefits as the PC version which is the fullest one. It is also as secure as possible and hides the real IP effectively.
What peculiarities does Private Internet Access have on Mac?
+ No connectivity issues
- No support of the quick IKEv2.
The app for macOS doesn’t have other differences.
Since it has a lot of options, greats speeds (up to 150 Mbps), and a high security level, we made PIA the #4 on our best VPN services for Mac list.
Private Internet Access for iOS isn’t available in every region. You need to check if it is in yours in the Apple App Store from your iPhone or iPad.
The app for this platform supports the IKEv2 protocol. It increases the period the device can work with the VPN on. Its functionality is mediocre but it’s enough to solve most tasks.
What peculiarities does Private Internet Access have on iOS?
+ IKEv2 protocol
- Smaller functionality than those of the best VPNs for iOS.
Personally, I was satisfied with the number of options for the all-round use on my iPhone. I simply connected to the VPN and did not turn it off until my tests were done. All the functions worked just as they do without the VPN during that time. Messengers, social network apps, and web browsers worked well on every tested location.
If you need a VPN primarily for iOS and want an ability to control the device to the fullest extent, use double VPN, watch Netflix, and perform other tasks, my recommendation to you is Surfshark.
Incredible but true: PIA for Linux isn’t a command-line app or manual settings (like Linux apps of most VPN services are) but a full-fledged software that has almost no differences from the fullest Windows version.
You don’t need to enter any console commands to control it. Using Private Internet Access on Ubuntu Linux doesn’t cause any difficulties or inconveniences. The UI has the same design and layout as the other desktop versions.
What peculiarities does Private Internet Access have on Linux?
+ Full-fledged app
+ Easy installation
+ All the extra functionality available
- Only for the 64-bit OS.
The Linux software has passed my security tests (which I conducted by intercepting the traffic):
In the screenshot, all the important test results that confirm the security of this app are marked in green. It is the OpenVPN UDP protocol, encrypted traffic, and the match between the IP address shown in the app window and the IP address of the VPN channel.
I enjoyed using PIA on Ubuntu and now, I think, it’s my favorite VPN for this system.
Private Internet Access for Chrome is one of the most functional and efficient extensions that allow accessing websites privately. PIA offers the same software for Firefox and Opera, too.
It’s hard to find a proxy extension with a bigger functionality:
What peculiarities does Private Internet Access for Chrome have?
- Camera and mic access control
- Credit card and address autofill block
- Flash and other vulnerable components block
- Protection from malicious websites (PIA MACE) and much more.
I’d also like to mention the ability to add URLs that should be used without hiding the IP address, which is a unique feature:
The only drawback PIA for web browsers has is that it only hides their traffic. To protect the system functions and other apps, you have to install a full-fledged VPN app for the OS you use.
Private Internet Access also supports any platform that allows manually setting a VPN up:
- Gaming consoles
- Other devices with VPN support
The only exceptions are Android TV and Kodi based on that platform. Those apps can be used with the Android software.
There are detailed manuals on how to set routers, Firestick, and other devices up on the PIA website.
Private Internet Access allows torrenting. Besides, it has the rare Port forwarding function that allows you to connect to more seeds thanks to bypassing the NAT.
You don’t need port forwarding in most cases. However, if your network is configured in a way that you don’t see seeds and peers when you launch your torrent client, a regular VPN won’t help you. PIA allows you to activate this feature and informs you about what port you should enter in the torrent client.
For example, qBittorrent and uTorrent have the field you can enter the port into in their settings:
Apart from that, Private Internet Access assures safe torrenting thanks to its always-on by default kill switch on every platform but Android.
Warning! PIA for Android has issues with the kill switch. It makes torrenting while moving between different access points or if the connection is poor unsafe.
Private Internet Access is a cheap VPN service when you buy it for 1 month. The 1-year subscription has an average price.
A small drawback this provider has is that it only provides a refund within 7 days (unlike other VPNs’ 30 to 45 days). What is really convenient, however, is the selection of payment methods:
Many providers accept cryptocurrencies nowadays but very few of them support anonymous ones. Private Internet Access accepts Zcash, the technology of which allows the payer to be 100% anonymous.
What peculiarities do the tariffs have?
- 7-day refund is guaranteed.
- No extra services require a surcharge.
- Credit cards, PayPal, 6 cryptocurrencies, BEAM, AmazonPay, and Mint are accepted.
- Buying through this link lowers the price by 15%.
- There are 3 subscription terms with different prices (the discount included):
- $8.45 for 1 month
- $4.49 per month with the 6-month subscription
- $2.42 per month with the 1-year subscription
- The prices are listed in US dollars and don’t change if you pay from the euro region or other areas.
Is there a possibility to save money by using a coupon?
No, PIA doesn’t offer coupons for extra discounts or sales. Any coupon you may find on the Internet is just a marketing ploy by a website owner. The same prices mentioned above are offered as coupons.
I have told you all the details of the service’s acquisition by the international company Kape Technologies in November 2019.
What does this company do?
The activities of Kape Technologies are based on the idea of creating a global structure that would ensure security and privacy on the Internet.
As of this day, the company owns three VPN services:
- CyberGhost VPN
- Private Internet Access
It has offices in 8 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom (the head office), and Israel where the company had been founded.
37-41 Mortimer Street
London, England W1T 3JH, GB
Website of PIA: https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/
So, for which purposes should you use Private Internet Access and for which you shouldn’t?
+ Hiding the IP address (location)
+ Unblocking websites (except when the use of VPN is tracked or blocked)
+ Requiring an especially fast VPN
+ Safe data exchange
+ Protection in public networks
+ The most technically complicated situations (the apps’ extra settings can help with these)
- Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services
- Needing a wide selection of countries
- Torrenting and sensitive data exchange on Android
- Using it on the platforms without apps (Apple TV, Firestick, etc.) is not convenient.
My personal opinion based on many tests of Private Internet Access:
This provider offers high-quality services. Its speed is higher than average but I don’t use it as my primary VPN because it doesn’t have servers in some large countries. Besides, it doesn’t allow me to spend my free time with it because it can’t access popular entertainment content blocked in my region.
Leave your comments and ask your question about Private Internet Access below. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer!