Private Internet Access VPN review: Low price, high level of service – PC World New Zealand

Private Internet Access VPN review: Low price, high level of service – PC World New Zealand

US$9.95 / AU$13.99 per month at Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access
in brief:

  • P2P allowed: Yes
  • Business location: United Kingdom and
  • Number of servers: ~10,000
  • Number of country locations: 78*
  • Cost: $40 (billed annually)
  • VPN protocol: OpenVPN
  • Data encryption: AES-128 (GCM)
  • Data Authentication: (GCM)
  • Handshake: RSA 4096-bit

Private Internet
Access (PIA) has been a favorite third-party VPN for many users
thanks to its excellent pricing and good privacy promises. The
company has changed hands since last we reviewed it and is now
owned by Kape Technologies. So is it the same service that we’ve
been using for the past few years? Let’s dive in and have a

Note: This
review is part of our best VPNs roundup. Go there for details about
competing products and how we tested them.

Features and services

Private Internet Access
with an active internet connection.

Private Internet Access

When you first open PIA it looks the same as we’ve seen since
the company overhauled its app in 2019. You get a simple panel in
the lower-right corner of your screen. This panel is fixed to that
location and cannot be moved. That’s not a choice I particularly
like, as it feels too constrained to me, but this one is not too
bad since it’s pretty well organized and the window is large

There’s a big on/off button at the top and below that is an
indicator for your chosen location—clicking it takes you to a
different screen where you can choose from among PIA’s various
country options. If there are multiple location options in a given
country there’s a downward-facing arrow to the left of the country
name displaying all the options. You can make the list more compact
by closing those multiple options.

Each country location has its ping time right next to it in
milliseconds and there’s a heart icon for marking specific
locations as favorites.

Overall, this is a nice design, and PIA organizes this list in
two different ways: latency or name. That makes it much easier for
people who are only interested in speed versus those who want a
specific country. Last time around the app only organized results
by latency, which resulted in some bonkers navigation when looking
for a specific country.

Once you’re connected, the app’s last panel displays your actual
IP address and the VPN address you’re using. This is only the
compact view, however. If you click the downward-facing arrow at
the bottom you see a ton of extra modules including a quick-connect
area with country options such as France, Germany, the U.S., and
the UK. There are also tiles for bandwidth usage, a performance
graph, data encryption and handshake settings being used, and basic
settings control. Click the bookmark icon on any of these and they
join the compact view—making it less compact. You can add or remove
any of these options as you see fit.

PIA has added quite a few extra features since we last looked,
including split tunneling, multi-hop options, and dedicated IP
addresses. It also has an automation feature where you can set up
rules such as automatically connecting to the VPN if you’re on an
open Wi-Fi server. It would be nice to see this automation feature
extend to be a little more robust, such as adding the option to
choose a specific location. Speaking of which, PIA has increased
its country count significantly since last we looked, from 33 to
78; however, 35 of those are virtual server locations where the
physical hardware is not in the country it claims to be. These
locations are usually problem spots like Saudi Arabia and China,
where getting actual servers up and running would be problematic.
You can read more about these geo-located regions on
PIA’s website.

As before, PIA includes an internet kill switch, and an
all-in-one ad tracker and malware blocker that’s off by default.
You can choose between OpenVPN and WireGuard connections, as well
as easily change your options for data encryption and handshake for
OpenVPN. The default for data encryption on OpenVPN is AES-128
(GCM), but you can pick AES-256 (GCM or CBC) if you prefer. There
are no choices for WireGuard as all the encryption and
authentication options are pretty well standardized under one


PIA has some great speeds. In our tests, the service maintained
41 percent of the base speed across five locations. Speeds in the
UK and Germany were particularly fast, maintaining 66 percent and

Image: IDG

PIA has some great speeds. In our tests using the default
OpenVPN options, the service maintained 36.95 percent of the base
speed across five locations and multiple testing speeds. That’s a
slip from the 41 percent overall speed we saw last time, but PIA is
still fast enough to be in the top 10 overall in our speed tests.
Speeds in the UK and Germany were particularly fast, and Australia
was respectable, consistently hitting around 15 Mbps. All speeds
were in the double digits, meaning they should all be fine for
streaming and other common uses.

Privacy, anonymity, and

PIA is owned and operated by Kape Technologies, a company based
in the U.K. with offices in Israel. Kape was formerly known as
Crossrider, and at the time was a platform that developers used to
build ad injection capabilities into their software. These days
it’s focusing not on ads but on user security software such as VPNs
and antivirus. Kape’s CEO is Ido Erlichman, and it’s owned by Teddy
Sagi. Kape has been going on a VPN buying spree of late picking up
ExpressVPN, and it also owns CyberGhost and ZenMate VPN, as well as
Mac antivirus firm Intego.

A lot has been made about the background of one of the
co-founders of Crossrider who was a member of Unit 8200, an elite
intelligence unit within the Israel Defense Forces. The suggestion
being possible connections between the company and Israeli
intelligence circles. While it’s difficult to verify such a claim,
I can tell you (as someone based in Israel) that Unit 8200 acts as
a de facto talent pipeline for Israel’s startup industry.
It would be pretty difficult to find an Israeli startup,
established company, or any major foreign company with offices in
Israel that didn’t have former 8200 members. It’s as common a
pipeline in Israel as universities like Berkley or Stanford are to
Silicon Valley.

Image: IDG

The larger concerns with Kape is the pivot from ad technology to
personal security and privacy given that the two business sectors
most definitely do not match. One is about siphoning user data,
while the other is about protecting it from being siphoned. Whether
you trust Kape is up to your own judgement, but if you’re
concerned, you can read more about it in the Forbes article above,
as well as this Restore Privacy article.

I asked Kape what it has to say about the various allegations
against it, and a company spokesperson responded, Crossrider was a
widely used and immensely popular development platform for
cross-compatible browser extensions that a very small
subset of users co-opted with adware. Crossrider had nothing to do
with the adware, actively fought against it…and ultimately shut
down their business because it became impossible to curb malicious
use of the platform…Crossrider’s entire C-suite and leadership left
the company in 2015…Kape, simply put, is a completely different
company with a completely different focus.

PIA’s privacy policy focuses primarily on the website, and it
reserves only one sentence for the VPN itself, which reads, The
above-mentioned Personal Data is not, at any point, associated with
any kind of activity done by the user inside the Private Internet
Access VPN which is NOT recorded, logged or stored at all. There is
also a lot of copy on the website about how it doesn’t log user
data. I asked the company if the policy is still to send all logs
to /dev/null, and the company confirmed that it was. In fact, all
PIA servers run in RAM only (quite a common feature in VPNs these
days), and all services related to the VPN are inside Docker
containers with Docker’s logging drivers disabled.

When you sign up for PIA, it asks for your email address, but
you may have to provide more information depending on your payment
method. PIA accepts a good amount of payment options including
PayPal, credit cards, Amazon Pay, and a wide variety of
cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, and
Litecoin—there’s also an option to use Bitpay instead of direct
wallet transfers.


PIA is a very good VPN service, and it is one of the
lowest-priced options out there that delivers a high level of
service. You can find services that require less information, and
there are faster VPNs out there, but the combination of solid
speeds, a good app, and a great price make PIA a good service.

*Private Internet Access currently uses virtual location
servers where one server purports to be based in one country but is
actually based in another. This is a common strategy for hard to
support countries like China, Russia, and others.

Editor’s note: Because online services are
often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements
over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately
reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or
our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this