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Private Internet Access – In Depth Review

Kurtis Avatar By: Kurtis | Last updated May 8, 2020

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Introduction

The use of virtual private networks is no longer perceived as a whim, but rather a necessity. Internet has become a daily part of our existence and we rely on it for various types of purposes: entertainment, socializing, financial transactions, communication and more.

All the platforms that we create an account on require out personal and/or financial information and we are constrained to reveal and share a lot of sensitive data. Getting access to the internet is extremely easy nowadays. Public WiFi offers access points almost everywhere around us: from pubs and restaurants to malls, airports and so on. Our mobile data plans include gigabytes of free internet every month, so getting online is pretty much within anyone’s reach.

The use of a virtual private network

As an internet user, you want to make sure your online confidentiality remains intact every time you go online, whether you are using a private or a public network to connect to the internet. Public WiFis are of course more prone to cyber threats and attacks, because they are unencrypted or poorly encrypted.

A virtual private network works by creating a digital ‘tunnel’ that is encrypted, meaning the data shared through it is coded, so that it can be kept safe from prying eyes. VPN providers use solid, up-to-date encryption protocols and features to make sure your anonymity is 100% preserved.

How does a VPN work?

When you connect to the internet through a VPN, you first connect to a server offered by the VPN provider, which can be located anywhere in the world, regardless of your actual location. You will automatically receive an IP address that matches the location of the server.  For instance, you can be located in London and connect to a server from Australia and receive an Australia IP address. This way, your real IP (and real location) are hidden. A VPN is especially useful when you are using public WiFis such as those in airports, malls, hotels, because your data can easily be hacked, even if the network requires a password. These networks are unsecure and easy to hack and you can have important information stolen.

In addition to offering online anonymity, virtual private networks offer a lot of other benefits to their users. One of the most common advantages of a VPN is the fact that it can unlock content/websites that are restricted in certain geographical areas. YouTube, Facebook, Google, video chat websites, WhatsApp, streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and so on, are just a few examples of banned or restricted platforms. You can bypass this censorship by simply making it look like you are connecting from a country that doesn’t have those restrictions. You can accomplish that by choosing a server location that works for you, just as we explained above.

Torrent users are also big fans of virtual private networks. Torrenting has never been a 100% legal internet activity and there are countries that apply high fines to users involved in torrenting or have even shut down torrenting websites altogether (Germany, France, Finland, China). A VPN can help you connect to servers from countries that have torrenting-friendly policies, so that you can download content anonymously, without the fear of being tracked and punished for it.

Another less known benefit of VPNs is that they can help you book cheaper flights, hotel rooms, or cars. Airlines oftentimes manipulate the prices depending on the country, so you can use that to your advantage, by choosing a server in a country that has lower prices.

Private Internet Access PROS and CONS

PROS:

  • Very affordable
  • Extremely user-friendly interface
  • Dedicated apps for all the common operating systems/devices and browser extensions for all the major web browsers
  • Strict no-logs policy even though they are based in the United States
  • Good speed test results
  • Kill-switch included in the iOS and Android app
  • Large network of servers worldwide (over 3,300 servers so far)
  • Has a lot of advanced features
  • Easily customizable interface

CONS:

  • Below the average money back guarantee (only 7 days)
  • Doesn’t offer dedicated IP addresses
  • No live-chat support

Summary

Private Internet Access is a leading VPN service released in 2010. It offers dedicated apps for all the major operating systems and browsing extensions for all the common web browsers. The service is based in the United States and starting November 2019 it is part of Kape Technologies. Kape Technologies also owns CyberGhost VPN and ZenMate VPN.

Private Internet Access has some really appealing selling points: it offers affordable plans, it allows up to 10 devices simultaneously, it has over 3,300 servers worldwide, in approximately 30 countries and doesn’t keep any traffic logs on its users.

Safety

This is where any VPN has to prove its worth the most, because the number one priority for most VPN users will always be online security.

Private Internet Access offers IP cloaking by letting you connect to one of their anonymous IP addresses, so that you can mask your true identity when you are online. This way, not even internet service providers or other websites will be able to track you down and find your real location or track your browsing preferences and habits.    

Private Internet Access ensures its customers that its encryption is high grade and based on the ‘cryptographically secure Blowfish CBC algorithm’, so that they can stay safe even when they use unsecure hotspots and networks to connect to the internet. You can opt for either AES-256 or AES-128 bit encryption and, if you really need a boost in speed, you can disable encryption altogether, although it wouldn’t be advised, except for situation in which you know the website you are visiting is completely secure and you are not doing anything important online. If you are just streaming a movie on Netflix for instance, it wouldn’t be so risky.

This VPN also offers a firewall that can block any unwanted connections.

Private Internet Access also offers DNS leak protection and IPv6 leak protection. Also, you can benefit from some more advanced security features that you can activate in the Settings of the VPN.

Another protection feature is the MACE feature. The feature can be turned on and off from the Privacy settings and when it is enabled, it blocks domains used for malware, ads, trackers, etc. So, this tool is basically a complex ad blocker.

Protocols

The high-grade encryption offered by Private Internet Access works in combination with the OpenVPN protocol (you can choose between TCP and UDP) but this VPN service also offers support for other protocols and technologies: IPSec/L2TP, PPTP, SOCKS5 (Proxy). The OpenVPN support is offered with all its apps, except for the iOS one. The available protocol for the iOS app is IPSec.

Privacy

Logs

When you first look at where Private Internet Access is based, you might raise an eyebrow and become skeptical when it comes to them respecting your privacy. Private Internet Access is based in the United States and it has to comply with the strict laws, meaning the government has the right to ask for certain user data they have collected and Private Internet Access cannot refuse to give it to them.

The United States is also part of the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance and the member countries exchange sensitive data and act as a large spying network, also using mass surveillance.

However, the good news is that Private Internet Access clearly states that it keeps no traffic or request logs on its users. And, fortunately, they are honest about that. There were a couple of examples in the past that proved they weren’t lying. The government did request them for data two times, back in 2015 and in 2017, and both times, they were left empty handed, as Private Internet Access simply didn’t have anything to give them.

This VPN service does collect some minimal information such as: e-mail address (necessary for the administration of your account), your payment information, when you opt for one of their plans and some Google analytics data, which is anonymized (it helps them improve their website and the way they deliver your content).

Kill-switch

Private Internet Access has an automatic kill-switch feature, which blocks your internet traffic in case your VPN connection drops for some reason. The kill-switch feature is also available for the iOS and Android app, which is a nice bonus, as most competitors don’t usually include it with their mobile apps.

Confidential data

There’s plenty of information you can find on their website, in their privacy policy, regarding the way they handle your data. Private Internet Access clearly states that the personal data you provide when you register on their website ‘is not passed on to third parties unless there is a statutory obligation…or if the transfer serves the aim of criminal prosecution’.

Your account info and data will be retained indefinitely, unless you request for it to be deleted, case in which you’ll have to wait for up to 30 days for the process to be completed.

Speed and network

Speed is one of the most important qualities to look for in a VPN. It is no secret that all VPNs slow down your connection to a certain degree, because they have to put your whole data through their encryption tunnel, which takes time and will affect your Internet speed. But if your VPN is fast, that decrease in speed won’t be that noticeable. You will still be able to stream movies, play games and perform all your online activities just as if you wouldn’t use a VPN. We think that’s a small price to pay for making sure your personal data and activities are safe from any online threats and for your anonymity to be preserved.

Moreover, a lot of VPN providers offer support for several encryption protocols, of which some are faster than others. If you really want to, you can sacrifice a bit in terms of security and opt for one that offers not the best protection but a decent one, and doesn’t affect the Internet speed that much.

Private Internet Access also has the option to turn off the encryption entirely if you want to boost your connection speed, although it is not indicated to do so, unless you know your network is safe and you only want to stream media or do other insignificant online activities that don’t require you to provide sensitive information.

A good thing about this VPN service is that it has a large network of servers, more than 3,300 spread all over the world, which means you get better speeds than with VPN services that have fewer servers. The reason why is that the more servers you have, the less crowded they’ll be, because users will have the option to choose between a wider variety and won’t all connect to the same servers.

When it comes to speed, Private Internet Access has managed to obtain good speed tests results so far. It may not be the fastest VPN on the market, but the downloading speeds are quite impressive.

When putting the VPN service to the test using the popular speedtest.net website, Private Internet Access behaved very well in all the important areas on the globe.

Europe servers registered average download speeds of 80 Mbps and upload speeds of approximately 40 Mbps.

Tests for the United States servers revealed quite similar results.

For Asia servers the speed was a bit lower; on a Hong Kong server the speed dropped insignificantly, just below 70 Mbps, while in Japan, it dropped to a bit over 50 Mbps.

Overall though, Private Internet Access is more than okay when it comes to performance and won’t hinder you in any of the common online activities such as gaming, streaming media and so on.

Tips for boosting your speed while using a VPN

There are of course some things you can do to gain more speed when using a VPN to connect to the internet. Here are some tips you could try:

  • If possible, choose a server that is the closest to your real location; the closer the server, the higher the speed
  • Switch between ports
  • Use the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) rather than the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) if possible, if you want a higher speed; but, be aware of the fact that the UDP protocol is not as reliable as the TCP one

All in all, Private Internet Access is fast enough and has managed to obtain above the average speed test results. And just like with any other VPN service, your real location and the server you are connecting to have a big influence on the speed.

Servers in the world

We already mentioned the importance of having a large number of servers spread as wide as possible throughout the world. It is what makes the VPN service more versatile, less overcrowded, thus faster.

Private Internet Access is in the major league, next to NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost and other industry leaders. This VPN service currently offers 3,372 servers in 29 countries and their number continues to grow.

Private Internet Access has servers almost everywhere in the world, except for the following:

  • North Korea
  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • Syria
  • Sudan
  • Afghanistan (the Taliban occupied part)
  • Ukraine (the Crimea region)

There are also some countries where the VPN may or may not work, as VPNs are blocked by those countries:

  • China
  • Sri Lanka
  • Turkmenistan
  • Turkey
  • Kazakhstan
  • Egypt
  • United Arab Emirates

Private Internet Access has servers in Europe (Netherlands, UK, France, Switzerland, Romania, Finland, Israel, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and more), all over the United States (California, Seattle, Texas, New York, Florida and more), Canada, Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zeeland, Australia and more.

To summarize, this VPN has over 1,500 servers in 14 locations in the United States. There are over 500 servers in the Netherlands alone and over 140 servers in Australia. Private Internet Access has 79 servers in Germany, 100 servers in Sweden, 84 in Switzerland, 188 servers in the United Kingdom and 216 servers in Canada. You can check their entire network here.

Overall, the number of servers offered by Private Internet Access is impressive and can compete with industry leaders. For instance, NordVPN offers 5,400 servers in over 60 countries. ExpressVPN offers approximately 3,000 servers in 94 countries and CyberGhost offers over 5,500 servers, in 81 countries. With almost 3,400 servers worldwide and growing, Private Internet Access doesn’t fall far behind.

Dedicated IP addresses

A dedicated IP address is one that is going to be used by just one user. That means that you don’t have to share that IP address with other users, which is often the case with a lot of VPNs. Dedicated IPs offer stability but they are usually not offered free of charge, they will cost you extra money per month. Another problem with them is that they don’t offer the same privacy level as shared IPs. Dedicated IPs are also called static, because with a dedicated IP you will always have the same IP address, regardless of your location. This does affect your anonymity to some degree and can make you a target for websites that want to send ads your way, because they can see your preferences from your online activities.

Private Internet Access doesn’t offer dedicated IP addresses. They argue their decision by explaining that “because our company doesn’t retain access logs of any sort, we’re unable to issue dedicated IP addresses. To do so […] would require us to retain MAC addresses, local IP information, etc. […] if we did this, it would completely invalidate our privacy standards and make the service unsecure […] All of our IP addresses are shared among our users to ensure the maximum level of anonymity possible. Is this feature that allows your Internet traffic to be truly untraceable when using our VPN service. If the IP address was yours and yours alone, then it would not be much different than a normal connection”.

Appearance and ease of use

As we’ve already mentioned it, Private Internet Access is compatible with all the common operating systems.

Windows:

Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10

macOS:

macOS X 10.10

macOS X 10.11

macOS 10.12

macOS 10.13

Private Internet Access is also compatible with:

Ubuntu 16.04

Ubuntu 17.10

Ubuntu 18.04

Debian 9+

Mint 18+

Arch Linux

Installation

Private Internet Access boasts on its instant setup and user-friendly interface, regardless of the app you are using. And luckily for them, they aren’t exaggerating, as installing and using the interface have indeed proved to be effortless.

Their website quickly points you to the ‘download’ page and you will see links for all the available apps and browser extensions: macOS, Windows (32-bit, 64-bit), iOS, Android, Linux, Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera. The VPN also works on routers such as pfSense, Tomato, DD-WRT.

You can opt for manual installation if you want and you have plenty of installation guides you can use on their website.

The first step you have to take is choose your preferred subscription plan and pay. You will then receive your login details. From the Download page you choose the app you want to install, click on the download link and then install the app on your device.

When you first open the app, you have to log in using your username and password.

The apps offered by Private Internet Access are pretty similar in features, with some minor differences. For instance, a great thing about this VPN service is that it includes the kill-switch feature with both its mobile apps, iOS and Android, which is not usually the case with other VPN competitors. The OpenVPN protocol also works with almost all the apps, except for the iOS, that uses the IPSec protocol.

When you connect to Private Internet Access for the first time, the VPN’s default setting is to connect you to the fastest server. There’s a big round button in the middle that allows you to do that and after you’ve used the VPN at least once, a click on that button will connect you to the most recent server you’ve used.

You can choose between connecting automatically or choosing a server manually, from the list that will appear on the screen.

On the right side next to each server, Private Internet Access will display the latency in milliseconds. The green ping times are displayed next to the fastest servers offered by the VPN, while those that are slower will appear with yellow ping times.

Windows settings

Once you are in the settings, you’ll have several tabs available on the left side: General, Account, Privacy, Network, Connection and Help.

You can change the default encryption which is only AES-128 bit, to AES-256 bit, which is far safer. There are also more advanced settings that let you change the handshaking and authentication method.

Customer support

Private Internet Access could use some improvements when it comes to its customer support. Unlike most competitors, this VPN provider doesn’t offer live chat support to its customers, which is definitely a drawback in this day and age.

You can only contact Private Internet Access for support through their ticketing system, which doesn’t guarantee the fastest response.

On the other hand, this VPN tries to compensate through its Support Portal on its website. The Support section of the website is full of useful support tools such as a FAQ, articles, news and guides.

Custom/specific features

Private Internet Access has a rich set of features to offer to its customers and these features are more or less included with all their apps.

Starting with security features, we have the internet kill-switch that is also available with the iOS and Android app. There’s also an advanced firewall included.

The MACE feature is a useful ad blocker that blocks ads, trackers and malware.

Private Internet Access also beats a lot of its competitors with the number of allowed simultaneous connections. This VPN service allows up to 10 devices simultaneously, which is well above the industry average. For instance, NordVPN only allows 6 devices, ExpressVPN allows 5 and CyberGhost, 7 devices.

Private Internet Access offers unlimited bandwidth and P2P support.

Connection-wise, you can opt for either TCP OpenVPN and UDP OpenVPN connections, with both being available in the Connection settings.

This VPN has its own DNS that it provides, which decreases the chances of any leaks. But you do have the option to use your own DNS if you want.

Mobile apps

As we’ve mentioned it already, Private Internet Access has dedicated apps for iOS and Android. Both apps are quite identical in terms of interface and features.

They both include the kill-switch feature and they have a clean interface. There’s a big on/off button in the middle that allows you to connect/disconnect from the VPN and the location and IP address are displayed at the bottom.

The apps are as straightforward as it gets. You choose a location, click on it and immediately connect to it. The way the servers/locations are displayed resembles the desktop version of the VPN. You can add to Favorites certain locations, you can see which ones are faster or slower by looking at the ping times that are shown next to each one.

Just like in the desktop version, you can change your encryption from AES-128 bit to AES-256 bit and choose between several handshaking methods.

Browser extensions

Private Internet Access offers browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. For Chrome, you need to run at least Chrome v48 or newer. For Firefox, you need Firefox v57 or newer and for Opera, you need Opera v52 or newer.

You can download the extensions on their Downloads page.

Popular tests

Any decent VPN should be able bypass geo-censorship and restrictions, whether we are talking about accessing platforms that are banned from certain countries, such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook or accessing streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and so on. In fact, aside from security, unlocking geo-restricted content is one of the main reasons why Internet users use virtual private networks.

Private Internet Access and Netflix

When it comes to accessing Netflix, you get mixed results when using Private Internet Access. Tests have showed that for now, this VPN is able to access Netflix on a lot of servers in the United States, Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Australia. However, there are other areas on the globe where this VPN couldn’t deliver the expected results: Netflix Japan, Netflix France and Netflix Germany have managed to ban Private Internet Access.

Hulu and Amazon

Unfortunately, when it comes to Hulu and Amazon, Private Internet Access is a bit more disappointing as it’s failed to access both of them in most tests so far. Same goes for BBC iPlayer.

Torrents

Torrenting is still a frowned-upon online activity in many areas in the world. Most VPNs do allow torrenting on their servers but they don’t necessarily brag about it.

Private Internet Access clearly ensures on its website that it offers P2P (peer to peer file sharing) support. That, along with their no-logs policy and the unlimited bandwidth, make a good and attractive combination for torrent users who can torrent in peace on all of Private Internet Access’s servers.

Private Internet Access also offers port forwarding, which, according to their explanations, should ‘optimize torrent performance’.

Pricing and payment methods

There are three types of subscriptions available with Private Internet Access: Monthly, 6 Months, Yearly.

The Monthly subscription is priced at just $6.95 per month.

The 6 Months subscription is $5.99 per month.

The Yearly subscription is just $3.33 per month.

All the plans include a 7-day money back guarantee, which is the most appealing money-back guarantee we’ve seen.

As far as payment methods go, Private Internet Access accepts anything from PayPal to credit cards, bitcoin and all major gift cards.

Conclusion

There are a lot of attractive selling points for Private Internet Access, starting with its affordable plans and ending with its complex yet user-friendly apps.

Private Internet Access is reliable, has a true no-logs policy, allows torrenting on all its servers, has dedicated apps for pretty much any type of operating system/device you can think of and browser extensions for all the major browsers. It allows 10 simultaneous devices and it has a large network of servers (over 3,300 and growing).

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