Private Internet Access, as its name clearly states, is a VPN solution designed to help you anonymize your Internet connection by assigning you a different online identity.
This VPN provider has caught our attention and is the next in line for our thorough testing procedures and review, so join us and discover whether it will live up to our expectations (and its highly-suggestive name) or not.
Although this read might not be brochure-like as it includes a ton of useful information (which couldn’t be compressed any better for the sake of it), it will let you cover a lot of ground in regards to how your privacy and security are treated by this VPN provider.
However, we came up with the perfect solution that will enable you to jump straight to whatever section piques your interest without having to go through the full read: a table of contents.
- A little bit of company history
- Public appearance
- The explanation part
- An applied example
- Some interview statements
- No traffic logging
- Terms of service analysis
- 14 Eyes Alliance
- Registering for an account
- Logging in and using the dashboard
- Refer a friend program
- Downloading the app to your device
- Checking for malware
- Installing Private Internet Access
- Running the app for the first time
- The first impression
- The main window and its controls
- Advanced view of the main screen
- Accessing the Settings window
- Advanced settings configuration
- The server list
- Services it can unlock
- Split-tunneling features
- TOR(renting) with Private Internet Access
- Online gaming performance
- Using Private Internet Access in China
- Preparing our testing environment
- Freshly baked security results
- Speed results are in!
- The customer support
- No trial
- Money-back guarantee
- Let’s talk about money
A little bit of company history
The team behind the Private Internet Access VPN project is London Trust Media, Inc. and initially released the service in August 2009. The CEO of Private Internet Access as well as its parent company (London Trust Media, Inc.) is Ted Kim, while the founder is Andrew Lee.
In 2018, Mark Karpelès, which was the CEO of Mt. Gox, was named chief technology officer of London Trust Media. This company is also known for the fact that they own the popular Freenode and Snoonet IRC networks.
Andrew Lee has a background in the Bitcoin world, given that he was amongst the original founders of Mt. Gox, but, according to various publications, he is a longtime online privacy enthusiast.
Recently (November 2019), Kape Technologies (CyberGhost VPN and Zenmate VPN owner) has made an offer to buy PIA for $95.5 million. If the deal goes unhampered, it’s expected to be finalized somewhere at the beginning of 2020, which will mark the moment when Kape adopts the Private Internet Access name.
If you look them up on the search engine of your choice, chances are you’ll find a discussion on Reddit, in which one of the company’s representatives answered a bunch of questions to satisfy the curiosity of some users.
The discussion is pretty much a brief one since only a bunch of replies appeared on the board, but it seemed to be centered around the questions “Should we trust London Trust Media? Can they see all our traffic?“.
A representative of the company (a member of the support team and Linux administrator with access before the sysadmins were moved off-shore) came there and set things straight by stating that Private Internet Access doesn’t perform any kind of logging, even though they do have the means of doing so (a set of tools that would have to be initiated by the sysadmin team manually).
The explanation part
Okay, we’ve heard that one too many times, no logging, we swear, we promise, but this time there’s an explanation, an inside scoop. Don’t you want to hear it (well, read it, actually)? Because we want to!
The company rep mentions TCPDump, an example of a tool that can be used to intercept Internet traffic, but there’s a statement explaining why this is an unlikely scenario.
The tool puts the network adapter into “promiscuous” mode and copies all the network traffic to an output file or a CMD interface. Since VPNs support multiple user connections, there’s only one interface on the server that will display cleartext data. More so, it’s stated that by the time a piece of data reaches its destination, it will be stripped by all the data that could potentially identify you.
An applied example
Not satisfied with the explanation above, a user further pressed its inquiries and wanted to know whether or not PIA (Private Internet Access) could capture his or her credentials whenever he or she visits their banking website.
The response was nothing short of elaborate. First of all, the banking website should use SSL, so, in this situation, the user’s TCP stream (the user traffic) would have to be captured. For this to happen, PIA would have to find out which server the user’s connected to, what IP address the user’s connected to and also getting approval from the primary sysadmin, who is also the partial owner of the company.
The company rep states that your logins are not tracked past the count part (thus ensuring that you don’t bypass the maximum connections per username), so determining which server you’re connected to is next to impossible.
Concerning the primary sysadmin part, the company rep states that he or she was requested to perform a partial sysadmin role, but was pulled from that due to his or her residence within the US. Tough security.
The cherry on top is that, if the banking website is indeed using SSL, there’s no way that Private Internet Access or its employees could see into that encryption since the SSL doesn’t change as it transits the VPN.
Some interview statements
A few interesting remarks from an online publication highlights to us that Andrew Lee, the founder of Private Internet Access, stated that in the event of being forced to compromise their customers’ privacy, PIA would rather close down. However, he doesn’t believe that PIA may find itself in this position since other companies have already been forced into this position.
To be more specific, we’re talking about Silent Circle and Lavabit and how that situation created a PR disaster that the government won’t likely risk triggering again. This, combined with the fact that Private Internet Access is “orders of magnitude larger than Lavabit and Silent Circle” is a reassuring thought.
No traffic logging
As if the information presented above wouldn’t suffice, you can see it on the list of Private Internet Access’ features on their website that they advocate for not keeping traffic logs, among other perks.
It’s also stated by the company’s representative in the Reddit discussion that, since the amount of data they store is kept to a minimum, in the event of an official inquiry, they couldn’t share the data since it’s most likely that the data isn’t there, to begin with.
There have been some cases where it’s been settled that they don’t collect any data that could be used to identify its customers. One of them is available online for you to read if you’re interested. Just access this link.
Terms of service analysis
We know that most of you just engage in a frenzy of skipping everything that even resembles an agreement or arrangement with the company that provides you with various services, but this time it’s slightly different because your security is at stake. And these stakes are high. Very high.
So we won’t try to persuade you into reading the whole thing since we have another, more effective plan in store. We’re going to read it for you and provide you with a list of essentials which we’ll extract during our reading.
- Right from the top of the Terms of Service document, you can find out that neither Private Internet Access and/or any of its parent companies will be held liable for any liability that arises from your use of the service and website;
- The agreement between you and Private Internet Access contains a binding arbitration and class action waiver provision, so you can use it to settle disputes out of court;
- You can only enter the agreement if you’re at least 18 (eighteen) years old or if you receive permission from a parent or legal guardian;
- If you use or visit the Private Internet Access service or website, it will be seen as your agreement with and acceptance of these terms and conditions;
- If you don’t agree with any of the terms, you can’t use the service or the website;
- Purchasing a Private Internet Access license subscription actually means that you’re purchasing a license that gives you the right to use the service. You’re not buying the service altogether or any other rights to it;
- Private Internet Access may, at any time, change the terms and conditions of the agreement, without any prior notice, and it’s your responsibility to review the agreement in order to be aware of any changes that might occur;
- If you keep on using the service and/or website after such modifications come in effect, it will be seen as your acceptance of and agreement with the newly, updated agreement;
- You have to comply with all applicable laws and regulations while you’re using the service;
- You are not allowed to engage in any form of unsolicited communication such as spam, junk mail, chain letters, pyramid schemes and the such;
- You are not allowed to exploit, possess, produce, receive or transmit illegal content such as children pornography;
- You are not allowed to upload, possess, receive or transmit copyrighted, trademark or patented content that you don’t own or lack written consent or a license for;
- You are not allowed to forge headers or manipulate email identifiers so as to mask your identity or the content;
- You are not allowed to use the service in such a manner that it interferes with other users’ way of making use of it;
- You are not allowed to use the service to engage in DDoS or DoS attacks to either Private Internet Access or any other third parties;
- You are not allowed to engage in any form of hacking such as probing networks, scanning for open ports or the such;
- You are not allowed to transmit any material that promotes abuse, bullying, threatening, bodily harm, injury or destruction of property and/or defamation;
- Private Internet Access claims it doesn’t make any representation that the site can be used in other locations that are outside the United States;
The following countries shouldn’t use the website or services: Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or the Taliban Occupied Part of Afghanistan.
The following countries shouldn’t receive the direct product of technical data: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cuba, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Macau, Moldova, Mongolia, North Korea, People’s Republic of China, Romania, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, or Vietnam.
- Private Internet Access has a zero-tolerance policy for any activity that breaches or violates the terms and conditions;
- If you’re caught violating the agreement, Private Internet Access will remove your account or subscription without offering you a refund and will hold you responsible for any financial damages and losses that might arise out of the said violation;
- Private Internet Access may disclose information about any agreement violation to law enforcement authorities;
- Private Internet Access doesn’t guarantee service coverage, speed, locations, and service quality, but it will make efforts to maintain the service available at all times;
- It is your responsibility to keep your credentials secure, make sure that your simultaneous connections are limited to a maximum of 10, provide valid and accurate personal information and assume liability for anything that happens on your account;
Not a lot of VPN service providers might be doing this, but Private Internet Access also has a simplified version of the agreement, that you might understand even better. Here goes:
This document is an agreement that you agree to by accessing the Private Internet Access VPN service
This is a legal agreement that includes clauses that gives you the right to settle a dispute out of court.
If you are not an adult you must receive permission from a parent or legal guardian.
Either you agree to these terms… Or if you don’t, you can’t use the website or service.
You are buying a license that gives you the right to use our service.
These messages might change!
Please be considerate of the Internet.
Pay attention to import/export rules.
We can disable your account if you break our rules.
Sometimes hardware malfunctions – we will do our best to have 100% uptime.
Please – Try and stay secure.
This is a subscription service.
If you are any less than 100% satisfied, we will refund you within 7 days of your purchase.
We are allowed to notify you if we’re scaling back or shutting down.
We are not paying your third party fees.
Disputes may be settled outside of court.
No class action lawsuits.
We can pass this agreement on but you can’t.
Just because one part of the agreement is found to not apply, doesn’t mean the rest won’t.
We choose the state of Indiana for choice of law.
Personal information Private Internet Access collects
- An email address – used for account management and abuse protection;
- Payment data – used for processing payments as required by third-party payment processors. Private Internet Access does not save full credit card information;
From websites and email:
- Google analytics data (anonymized) – It is possible that Google may store a cookie with your consent;
- Data included in submission forms such as on the “Contact Us” page;
- Email addresses from email messages that Private Internet Access receive;
How Private Internet Access uses your information
- Your email address – used to send subscription information, payment confirmations, customer correspondence and promotional offers regarding Private Internet Access;
- Your payment data – used to manage payments, cancellations and client sign-ups;
- Your Google Analytics data – used to improve the website and content delivery system;
- Your data – used for compliance with valid legal process;
- Your contact submissions and emails – used for correspondence;
- Your temporary cookies – used to handle control panel logins;
You should be aware that your account’s information will be stored indefinitely by the data controller unless you request that your personal information should be deleted.
If you do request that your personal data should be deleted from the PIA servers, the information will be anonymized so that it won’t be associated with a specific user.
14 Eyes Alliance
Yeah, you probably wondered whether Private Internet Access is located in a 14 Eyes Alliance country. It’s actually located in a 5 Eyes country (UKUSA), which is kinda more unsettling since those countries were the first to sign the UKUSA Agreement.
However, the company behind this project says they’re not concerned about it and neither should you. Despite the fact that various security agencies can demand access to user data or even gag the VPN provider to prevent transparency, Private Internet Access has designed their operations to prevent this sort of things from happening by not logging user data or other information that could help agencies identify a certain customer, regardless of the methods they use.
On top of that, as stated above, they’d rather shut down their operations than compromise their customers’ privacy. There was a situation where Russia demanded that they (PIA) start logging their users’ identities for up to a year, after seizing their servers. PIA’s response was to shut down operations in Russia on the spot.
Registering for an account
One step you must take before you can benefit from Private Internet Access’ features is signing up for an account, and purchase a subscription plan since it’s not possible to register for an account otherwise. Follow these steps if you want to create a Private Internet Access account in a quick, hassle-free manner:
- Go to Private Internet Access;
- Click on “Get Started Now” or scroll down the page to see the subscription plan;
- Choose a subscription plan (save 71% on PIA now!) of your choice and tap “SIGN UP NOW” button;
- Now, a new window will pop-up where you can select a payment method;
- Fill in your payment details;
- Click the “Pay Now” button;
- Follow the on-screen instructions to finish the creation of your account;
You’re done! Now you’re not only the proud owner of a Private Internet Access account, but you also have a premium subscription plan on the side.
Logging in and using the dashboard
After the payment has been successfully processed, you can log into your account by accessing the “My Account” section on their website and typing the required credentials in the designated boxes.
Once you’re in, you’ll be able to notice some account-related data such as the date when you’ve purchased the subscription plan, how many days are left until it renews, the payment method you’ve used to purchase it, and the next billing date and amount.
From the same location you can update your credit card details, upgrade your subscription plan (also special offers are displayed, if available), enable two-factor authentication, change your password and/or email address, generate username and passwords for using them with PPTP/L2TP/SOCKS, generate configuration files for OpenVPN, change the language you’ll receive emails in and cancel your subscription.
Please note that canceling your subscription doesn’t delete your account, refund you or deny you access for the services you’ve paid for. Canceling your subscription only cancels the automatic payment that’s been specified above at the “next billing date and amount” section.
Refer a friend program
You’ve probably noticed that after you’ve logged into your account and reached the dashboard, you’ll be able to access a new section called “Refer a friend” which enables you to recommend this product to friends or family members and receive free days of service.
Accessing this section redirects you to a whole new page where you can type in the details of the contact you want to invite to use Private Internet Access (name and email, but the name is optional), check a box if you agree to the Terms and Conditions of the Family and Friends Referral Program and hit the “Send Invite” button.
Alternatively, you can see a unique referral link that you can copy to clipboard or share it on various social media platforms and also view the total number of invites sent, how many rewards you’ve gathered and the number of free days you’ve acquired. You’re also told that, for privacy reasons, invites that are older than 30 days will be deleted.
Downloading the app to your device
Retrieving the app to your device is an easy task since all you have to do in order to start the download process is navigate to the self-explanatory “Download” page on their website by using the toolbar at the top of the page and press the corresponding button, depending on your preferences.
If you have a Windows computer, you simply need to choose between “Download 64-bit” and “Download 32-bit,” according to your operating system’s architecture. Some devices on this page only have 64-bit downloads (macOS and Linux), others are assigned Play Store or App Store pages (Android and iPhone/iPad), while extensions have a “Get Extension” button you can use within the browser of your choice (Chrome, Firefox, and Opera). It is possible to use Private Internet Access on ten different devices at the same time.
On the same page, you can view additional data such as recent versions’ checksums and changelogs, the same info but for older versions and also OpenVPN configurations. Scrolling down lets you view the SHA-256 checksums for the latest stable versions so that you can compare them after downloading the app to your device if you have any doubts.
Checking for malware
Of course, any casual computer user would simply rush to set up the application without performing any kind of check prior to installing the app. You know, nowadays cyber-attacks have evolved to the point that virtually anything you may find only can be a potential target, so it’s better to be safe than sorry in this situation.
So what we’re going to do, and I advise you to do the same, is upload the installation executable to VirusTotal and wait for the scanning to complete. We did and found absolutely no serious alerts related to the executable, as you can see from our results page and screenshot below.
Installing Private Internet Access
Assuming you’ve downloaded the installer package on your Windows computer, double-click the executable and lay back, since the rest of the process unfolds right before your eyes, without requiring any kind of additional assistance on your side.
A detail we were pleasantly surprised in discovering was that, compared to other VPN applications, Private Internet Access didn’t request for permission to install the network TAP adapter. The process of installing a TAP adapter traditionally might put new users in distress, since they might not be familiar with the requirements for using a VPN service, but since PIA installs it for you, this is not an issue anymore.
However, note that, depending on your UAC (User Access Control) settings, you might be asked for permission to run the installer with elevated (administrator) rights. Select “Yes” to proceed with the setup. The version we’ve installed on our computer was 1.6.0.
Running the app for the first time
After you deploy Private Internet Access on your computer, it’ll be launched automatically, without needing any additional action on your side. You can’t change this since the installation process doesn’t provide you with any controls you can interact with, you just sit back and enjoy the setup (if you’re into that, we won’t judge).
The main screen of the application features a couple of buttons and what we believe is the service’s mascot overlaid on an animated falling-star background. The buttons can be used to take a quick tour of the application and log into your account so that you can start using the service.
The tour is actually a three-step guide that lets you pick your favorite theme (that’s the only interactive part of it), see a bunch of info on how you can customize your experience and some brief details regarding the type of devices this app can be installed on.
The first impression
PIA’s interface is a minimalist, yet stylish one, with smooth edges, polished buttons, and neatly-organized content. When you first run the app, you’re presented with a rather large window, which prompts you to log into your account or take a quick tour, so you’d naturally think that this is how this app is going to look on your computer while you’ll be using it.
However, once you get past the login, you’ll be pleased to notice that the app is usually hidden in the system tray and its main window is quite small (although you might want to toggle the advanced view, but we’ll get there).
The main window and its controls
Once you get past the login, you’ll be facing the real main screen of the app, which consists of a large power button, a small map showing the selected server (along with the server’s description in writing), your IP address and that of the VPN server you selected, a small downward arrow button and the “More Options” or “Overflow” or “Hamburger” button or whatever you want to call it. It’s actually three dots on top of another – you click them and you’ll see additional options.
This last menu we’ve mentioned enables you to access the “Settings” window, log out of your account or quit the application altogether, since closing the window minimizes the app to the system tray.
Advanced view of the main screen
As stated above, you can extend the main window into an advanced version of itself by clicking the small arrow button at the bottom of the window. Aside from the default stuff you could find on the main screen, there are some additional controls you can toy with.
For instance, you have a “QUICK CONNECT” section along with the flags of certain countries. Clicking any of the flags instantly connects you to a server located in the country the flag belongs to. The “PERFORMANCE” section enables you to view connection-related parameters such as the download or upload speed values. The “USAGE” category contains download and upload data (traffic in Mbs). In the same advanced view, you can quickly toggle some settings on or off and see your current subscription plan.
However, there’s also a cool thing that you can do here. You see those bookmark icons at the right of each section and notice how some of them are gray/dark and others are green? Well, clicking them toggles their visibility in the main screen, the “simple” view of the main window. So, for instance, if you don’t want to see yours and the server’s IP address, you can toggle it off, or if you want to have access to the “QUICK SETTINGS” section, just click the bookmark button and you’re set!
Accessing the Settings window
As stated above, click the “More Options” button and select “Settings” from the menu. You’ll notice that an independent window suddenly appears on your screen. Within it, you can see that there are several categories that organize the settings you can interact with.
The categories are “General,” “Account,” “Privacy,” “Network,” “Connection” and “Help.” Their names are quite intuitive so that even novices can understand what they’re there for and even explore their contents if they want.
The “General” section lets you set the app to launch upon system startup, enable it to connect on launch, show or hide desktop notifications, choose your language, pick a theme between dark and light and select a tray icon style. Pretty extensive for a “General” section.
As you’d expect, the “Account” category lets you see your username and subscription plan details, but also offers you shortcuts to your account page on the PIA website and enables you to log out of your account. From the “Privacy” section you can set the VPN killswitch to “Off,” “Auto” and “Always.” Personally, I’d set it to “Always” but do as you please. There’s also a PIA MACE option there that lets you block domains used for ads, trackers and malware, which is set to “Off” by default, but you can activate it if you want to.
Advanced settings configuration
In the “Network” section you’ll be able to find a “Name Servers” menu that lets you switch between PIA DNS, the existing DNS and a custom DNS that you can configure manually. You can also enable the “Request Port Forwarding” and “Allow LAN Traffic” options from the same menu.
The “Connection” category is probably the one with the most possibilities regarding service customization. It’s possible to change the default connection type, data encryption algorithm, data authentication mode, remote port, local port, and the handshake. Plus, you can enable the app to use small packets. If you’re confused about what these settings can be used for, you can click the “What do these settings mean?” hyperlink.
Last, but not least, the “Help” section is the place where you can see the app’s version, access the changelog, take the quick tour, enable beta updates, toggle debug logging and disable accelerated graphics if your computer is sluggish. More so, you can submit debug logs that were generated by the “Debug Logging” feature mentioned above, access the support portal, reinstall the network adapter and uninstall Private Internet Access from your computer on the spot.
The server list
You can connect to the following servers in the following locations:
|Country||# of locations||# of servers||# of VPN servers||# of Squid Proxies||# of SOCKS proxies|
|United States||14 Locations||1,525 Servers||1,489 VPN||36 Squid Proxy||None|
|United Kingdom||3 Locations||188 Servers||182 VPN||6 Squid Proxy||None|
|Canada||3 Locations||246 Servers||240 VPN||6 Squid Proxy||None|
|Australia||3 Locations||81 Servers||76 VPN||6 Squid Proxy||None|
|Germany||2 Locations||79 Servers||75 VPN||4 Squid Proxy||None|
|New Zealand||1 Location||16 Servers||14 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Netherlands||1 Location||548 Servers||340 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||206 SOCKS Proxy|
|Sweden||1 Location||100 Servers||98 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Norway||1 Location||28 Servers||26 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Denmark||1 Location||26 Servers||24 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Finland||1 Location||20 Servers||18 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Switzerland||1 Location||85 Servers||83 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|France||1 Location||48 Servers||46 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Belgium||1 Location||15 Servers||13 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Austria||1 Location||17 Servers||15 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Czech Republic||1 Location||17 Servers||15 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Luxembourg||1 Location||10 Servers||8 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Ireland||1 Location||10 Servers||8 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Italy||1 Location||13 Servers||11 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Spain||1 Location||14 Servers||12 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Romania||1 Location||28 Servers||26 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Hungary||1 Location||10 Servers||8 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Poland||1 Location||10 Servers||8 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|United Arab Emirates||1 Location||4 Servers||3 VPN||1 Squid Proxy||None|
|Hong Kong||1 Location||16 Servers||14 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Singapore||1 Location||20 Servers||18 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Japan||1 Location||16 Servers||14 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Israel||1 Location||8 Servers||6 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|Mexico||1 Location||33 Servers||31 VPN||2 Squid Proxy||None|
|India||1 Location||4 Servers||3 VPN||1 Squid Proxy||None|
As the website states, Private Internet Access is using bare-metal servers, keeping security and performance at optimal levels. A bare-metal server describes a computer server that’s actually a single-tenant physical server.
You shouldn’t confuse the single-tenant term with the single-user one. A bare-metal server can have multiple users connected to it at the same time or carry out several tasks, but it’s dedicated to a single customer, the one who’s renting it. Unlike other data center servers, bare-metal servers are not shared between multiple customers. More so, they are physical entities, as opposed to being virtual servers running on shared hardware.
Services it can unlock
We’re reaching the most interesting part of this service, namely the services it can unlock. If you were not aware, nowadays there are several services that are not entirely available to the wide public, while some of them are completely banned in certain countries.
An example of such a service would be Netflix (one of the most popular ones), which has recently become available to a wider public than just the US. However, the content non-US residents receive is not the same as the US residents, as some of it is only available for US customers. Yeah, we know, unfair.
However, it seems that Private Internet Access is capable of unlocking Netflix for you. For now, at least. Keep in mind that Netflix waged war on VPN users and is constantly banning detected VPN IP addresses from accessing their service, so this might not go on forever.
For now, Netflix is the only service that we successfully unlocked with PIA. With others, such as Hulu, Amazon Prime Video or BBC iPlayer, it’s kind of a luck thing, meaning that you can sometimes get lucky and succeed, while other times you just hit a brick wall.
If you have certain apps on your computer that require very low latency in order to work as intended, Private Internet Access provides you with the ability to allow them a free pass and completely ignore the VPN server. In essence, this means that the apps in question do not get slowed down at all and they are able to make full use of your regular Internet connection, which means running at native latency and making use of all the available bandwidth.
In order to achieve this, all you have to do is to open the Settings screen within the app and navigate to the “Network” section. After that, you have to enable the “Split Tunnel” option, which then unlocks the list at the bottom. You can then add as many apps as you want to the list and allow them to bypass the VPN entirely.
Obviously, you need to make sure that the apps you choose do not track your activity behind your back, since a lot of modern programs are more than eager to steal your data, even if they don’t seem fishy. Thus, it’s important to vet every app before allowing it to bypass your VPN.
TOR(renting) with Private Internet Access
First of all, it’s allowed, so we got that out of the way. We’ve fired up a torrent client on our computer and attempted to download a file. We encountered no issues in retrieving the file and, more so, we could also seed it to other users, so there’s no issue there.
You can also use TOR with the Private Internet Access VPN, but you must make sure to connect to the PIA service first and then run the TOR browser afterward. Just note that although merging the two technologies can bring you an extra layer of security, the drawback is that your connection can become slow. Really slow.
Another thing you need to take into consideration is that you get no protection from malicious TOR exit nodes (traffic entering and leaving TOR nodes is unencrypted and could be monitored) and that TOR exit nodes are also often blocked. For the moment, there’s no native TOR support through an OpenVPN configuration file.
Online gaming performance
If you are a gamer, then you are probably very sensitive when it comes to latency, since a few extra milliseconds can make the difference between winning and losing in a competitive environment. Usually, having a VPN running in the background can take a significant toll on your connection, which can make it very difficult to enjoy online games.
In the case of Private Internet Access however, things are definitely not as bleak. For starters, if you are not concerned about your games mining personal information, you can use the split-tunneling feature to allow the games to bypass the VPN entirely, which removes any extra latency for good.
On the other hand, if you are trying to access geo-restricted servers, then you need to keep the VPN active. Thankfully, our tests show that Private Internet Access offers very good pings, which means that your gaming performance won’t be affected too much.
Naturally, it depends a lot on the chosen location, but in our experience, even choosing a server on a different continent does not push your latency higher than around 300 ms, which is serviceable in most cases. In fact, nearby servers can even provide you with sub-100 ms response times, which is about as good as it gets in terms of online gaming.
Using Private Internet Access in China
If you want to use Private Internet Access on Chinese territory, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First off, the official app probably won’t work at all, since the Chinese government has poisoned the service’s DNS servers. Thus, you must use alternative solutions in order to connect to your PIA account.
According to our research, your best bet is to use the L2TP protocol in order to access the free Internet from China. You can generate your L2TP/PPTP/SOCKS5 username and password directly from your dashboard, which are needed if you want to configure your connection using those protocols instead of the usual OpenVPN.
As far as servers are concerned, users report that Hong Kong, Japan, U.S.A., and U.K. servers are usually working as intended, so it’s recommended that you try some of those as well. Obviously, this is easier to set up if you are just traveling to China and you have time to prepare, otherwise you have some additional hoops to go through, such as purchasing a subscription in the first place.
Preparing our testing environment
As you’re probably used to by now, we’re going to run some tests in order to decide whether Private Internet Access really does provide you with private Internet access or it’s just a marketing sham.
In order to assess that, we need to run some tests on how well it handles its security and whether the speed is satisfactory or not. Notice how we’ve mentioned security first? Well, the order of importance is exactly this one, since we believe that speed doesn’t matter at all if security is not handled accordingly.
The security tests will be run as we’ve explained in this article and the results will be posted below so that you can compare them to yours (we encourage you to take the same tests and post the results).
Freshly baked security results
As promised, we didn’t skip a beat and brought you the results of our security tests. For those of you who don’t like waiting, you can view the results of our tests below:
Conclusion: no IP, DNS, WebRTC or Flash IP data has leaked during our security tests. Good job!
Speed results are in!
Now that we’re done testing for flaws and leaks, we can start focusing on speed values. Ideally, VPN providers should be able to provide its customers with both secure and fast servers, especially since very few providers offer their services for free.
However, we’ll see exactly where Private Internet Access stands in this situation; it’s got good security, but does it also have lightning-fast servers? Let’s find out.
It’s worth pointing out that we used Canada instead of the U.S.A. in our speed tests because none of the U.S.A. servers would work with fast.com. Keep that in mind if you plan on using Private Internet Access, since these connectivity issues might arise in other cases as well.
|Location||Internet Speed||Latency||Upload Speed||Downloaded||Uploaded|
|Canada||340 Mbps||166 ms||190 ms||22 Mbps||320 MB||50 MB|
|Germany||440 Mbps||40 ms||217 ms||22 Mbps||850 MB||40 MB|
|Mexico||240 Mbps||220 ms||245 ms||21 Mbps||700 MB||50 MB|
|Singapore||71 Mbps||317 ms||319 ms||12 Mbps||210 MB||50 MB|
|Japan||97 Mbps||300 ms||303 ms||19 Mbps||320 MB||70 MB|
|Australia||42 Mbps||339 ms||343 ms||19 Mbps||110 MB||40 MB|
As you can see, the speed tests yielded great results and, more so, locations that are not exactly popular for their groundbreaking connection performances have generated outstanding speed values. Good job, PIA!
The customer support
If you’re one to spend countless hours chatting about various stuff, you’ll be disappointed to learn that Private Internet Access doesn’t provide you with live chat support. Instead, you can use the traditional ticket system and you’ll receive a reply via email.
All you have to do is click the “Contact Us” button on their website (it’s at the bottom-right corner of the page), select the department you’re addressing the issue to, type your name, email, subject and question in the designated fields and select your operating system, connection type you’re using and VPN connection type (application, extension or OpenVPN client). I know, the list is kinda lengthy, but it’s for a greater cause: filtering your ticket and assigning it to the most suitable support crew member. I hope.
We’ve received a reply in less than half an hour, which is not bad at all. The reply we received was a formal, professional, but also reassuring one, so go ahead and talk to them if you want to; they won’t make you feel like talking to cold-hearted robots.
I know that there are some users among our readers who would prefer actually getting to try the services that they ultimately decide to pay for before actually putting their money on the table. Unfortunately, Private Internet Access doesn’t provide us with a trial version that we could use as a deal-breaker.
However, VPN trials are a rare thing nowadays, since there’s more than just one way to trick the trial systems and investing in such a project just so it can be outsmarted is just not gainful.
On the bright side, they came up with a better solution, which is a 7-day money-back guarantee. How does it work? Well, you purchase a subscription plan, and you start using the service.
If at any point, up until seven days, you decide that you and Private Internet Access aren’t exactly a match made in heaven, you can ask for a refund, and you’ll get your money back. Using this technique has a lesser chance to end with the company being scammed since freeloaders aren’t so eager to put down their credit card details and actually make a purchase just so that they can return the product and get their money back on it.
Please note that refunds must be made in writing and it can be submitted by either using a form on their website or sending the request via email. Some VPN service providers have a long list of requirements that you have to meet in order to get your money back, but Private Internet Access only asks for the email address you’ve used to register for their services and the 7-digit order number from your payment confirmation email.
Let’s talk about money
As stated above, Private Internet Access doesn’t provide its users with a trial, let alone free unlimited access to their services, but before you start judging them, consider this: free VPN services don’t require money from you, but they’re getting their worth one way or another. One way is by bombarding you with pointless ads, possibly heavily-loaded with malware, while the other way is just selling your data to those who bid more money on it.
Private Internet Access offers you three subscription plans that you can choose from. These are as follows:
|Plan type||1 Month Plan||6 Months Plan||1 Year Plan (plus 2 free months)|
|Features||24/7 North American VPN Support
The Most Anonymous VPN Service
Highest quality for the lowest price. Period.
Worldwide coverage with 30+ countries
Massive network with 3320+ gateways
Easy to use custom VPN software
No logging. Period.
To draw the line, Private Internet Access is a VPN service provider based in the US that aims to provide you with a private, secure connection despite the turmoil that’s been haunting the online environment in the past years.
Even though the country they’re located in is not only a member of the 14 Eyes Alliance, it’s actually one of the first ones to ever sign the UKUSA Agreement, they treat the privacy of their customers with the utmost importance and would rather shut down their operation than compromise their users’ data, as they previously did.
They have a white hat program that challenges curious minds to test their systems and report any detected vulnerabilities in exchange for rewards. They’ve been involved in some courtroom cases which proved to the world that they don’t log any sensitive data from their users so that even if their servers would be seized, nothing of great importance would be found.
Private Internet Access lets you deploy their application and use their services on up to 10 devices simultaneously. Their app is highly intuitive and features a wide range of controls, making it suitable for novices and professionals alike.
During our security testing, we didn’t identify any leak or security breach that would lead to your online identity to be revealed. The speed their servers yielded during our speed tests was more than just satisfactory.
PIA doesn’t offer a trial but comes with a 7-day money-back guarantee that doesn’t have too many requirements to make you eligible for a refund. Its monthly plan might seem a bit pricey, but if you’re in for the long run, you might want to purchase a bigger subscription plan, since the discounts are truly something to consider.
Do we recommend Private Internet Acess? Yes.
+ Great security; (5)
+ Rather-close-than-compromise policy; (5)
+ No logging (with proof); (5)
+ Great connection speed; (5)
+ Works with Netflix (one server found); (4)
+ Allows TOR and torrenting; (5)
+ Wide range of servers (bare-metal ones, too); (5)
+ Whitehat program to encourage vulnerability reporting; (5)
– 5, 9, 14 Eyes Alliance; (no rating since it’s more of an informative note)
– No live chat support; (4)
– Can’t unlock several popular services; (3)
Private Internet Access gets a 4.18/5 rating.
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