Private Internet Access is by far the most popular US-based VPN service provider. Let’s see how they stack up against newer, foreign competitors.
PIA is a solid VPN for those looking for simple protection at coffee shops, light torrenting, and geoshifting. US-residency, outdated support documentation, and questions about the management team give the rest of us pause.
Private Internet Access is a US-based VPN service provider owned by London Trust Media. London Trust Media also owns Freenode and Snoonet IRC networks. The first version of PIA was made available in August of 2010.
In April of 2018, it was reported that former Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles became the CTO of London Trust Media.
PIA claims no logs are kept. This statement has been validated through a court case from 2016, where PIA was subpoenaed and did not provide any logs pertaining to the user in question.
Additionally, in July 2016, PrivateInternetAccess closed all operations in Russia after a new law was passed that mandated maintaining logs of all internet traffic for one year.
The company offers both cases mentioned above in response to questions regarding their US base — and the risks associated with being in a 5 Eyes country.
I installed the first-party official PIA desktop app on my macOS laptop. I also installed the first-party official mobile app on my iOS devices.
Installation was straightforward, and I was pleased to see several sensible defaults enabled, such as kill-switch functionality, and encrypted PIA DNS.
I was pleased to see the depth of connection configuration options on the desktop client. You can change:
This is more flexible than we typically see, but most users shouldn’t need to edit anything here.
One feature that users might find crucial is the ability to allow LAN traffic (local network) even if the kill-switch is engaged. This will enable you to maintain access to network resources such as printers and storage drives.
Mace is an included feature that blocks unwanted ads and trackers while browsing. Support documentation says the Mace service relies on a blacklist (located here) to operate.
One thing I’m surprised not to see is any obfuscation for ISPs/organizations that block VPN usage. It’s also a bit of a head scratcher to find that Tor access isn’t provided. You can still use the TOR browser after connecting to your VPN though, in any event.
I tested bandwidth and stability over a few weeks and dozens of servers. Overall, the speed was reasonable, though not outstanding. Reliability was solid using the provided apps.
Chicago, Illinois, United States
No IP or DNS leaks were detected when using ipleak.net.
The mobile app has a relatively high feature parity with their desktop apps. There are two toggles in the settings that enable Siri shortcuts, one for connect, and one for disconnect.
You can toggle the VPN kill-switch, a dark theme, and you have full access to the network management tool to differentiate cellular/mobile configurations.
Instead of having Mace, there is a Safari Content Blocker that you can enable that does essentially the same thing — blocks ads and trackers while you browse.
All in all, the iOS mobile app is very well put together and seems stable, reliable, and easy to use.
Many of the support documents and pages on the site are out of date. For example, the “How it works” section of the site states that OS compatibility for iOS devices is:
However, upon looking at my mobile apps, I noticed that OpenVPN and IKEv2 were also available to select. Checking the release notes in the App Store revealed that OpenVPN support was launched about 12 months ago, and IKEv2 was included about 3 months ago.
PrivateInternetAccess is priced towards the higher end unless you subscribe for longer commitments. The 2-year deal is the most affordable, as with several other providers.
PIA offers a 7-day money back guarantee.
One of the most interesting features of the service is the ability to pay with gift cards. Privacy and anonymity seeking buyers can use Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, and many other major gift cards to fund their subscription fees.
PIA also accepts PayPal, bitcoin, and most major credit cards.