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BSN’s PIA VPN Review: The Defying One

Dominik

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With an amazing track record spanning a full decade’s worth of VPN service providing and defying overreaching governments all over the planet, the only thing longer than Private Internet Access’s list of achievements is the possessive form of its name. Just.. wow, that is a mouthful. Let’s simply go with “PIA” and get this review started, eh?


PIA VPN Review Summary
4.4 BSN Score
Pros
Absolutely stellar, publicly verifiable track record of protecting user privacy . Excellent value. Gift card payments are a pretty good idea.
Cons
Our social circle is judgmental toward gift card users. No free trial. Can’t outsmart Netflix (lol). Distracting looks, and no, not in a good way.
Summary
If you not only care about your own privacy and security but want to reward companies that do the same, PIA is a VPN you should at least try because the number of comparable alternatives is depressingly limited.
Performance3.5
Privacy & Security5
Ease of Use5
Pricing4.5

PIA Performance

We mean this in the best way possible: the overall PIA customer experience isn’t really about speeds. Yes, this is a decent-performing VPN when looking at raw numbers, both in terms of peak Internet throughput and consistency. Also, with more than 3,000 servers spread out across just under 40 countries, PIA’s VPN network is pretty sizable but not spectacularly so, especially compared to some truly enormous ecosystems like the one built around ExpressVPN.

PIA is also an excellent choice for torrenting, boasting native support for many of the most popular peer-to-peer sharing clients in the world, as well as port forwarding and other highly relevant technologies. It unfortunately falls short in the streaming department as it’s somehow unable to outsmart Netflix but hey, nobody’s perfect.

The reason why PIA gets more leeway with those shortcomings than the average VPN does in our reviews is quite simple, and by that, we mean “requires an entire separate article section to be properly explained”.

Private Internet Access (PIA) Privacy & Security

Joking aside, here’s the short version: PIA has a serious claim at being the most privacy-friendly VPN service money can currently buy. If you read some of our other VPN reviews, you will know this is not a sentiment we make lightly – or ever, for that matter.

While this can be said about many businesses, VPNs truly are an industry built entirely on trust. You’re either trustworthy or you aren’t, with basically no gray area in between. If you charge money for protecting people’s online identities and activities, you don’t get to take a day off. You can’t sell out your customers just a liiitle bit over a weekend because you did what you were supposed to for five years beforehand. You don’t get to walk away unscathed from having your systems hacked, either – it’s a truly thankless line of work.

PIA understands that state of affairs perfectly, having opted to turn it into the basis of its business model. Here is a VPN that will either protect you, like it’s supposed to, or willingly fold because it suspects it could fail. It’s a philosophy pioneered by Lavabit, a company that shut down in mid-2014 after finding no other way to continue protecting just one of its many customers pursued by the U.S. surveillance apparatus. You might have even heard of that guy, but we’ll resist letting Edward Snowden derail this review any more.

The bottom line is, PIA has every making of another Lavabit; not because of anything it claims to be or do but because of its track record that we’ll get into in a bit.

PIA Warrant Canary

In light of the above, PIA unsurprisingly doesn’t maintain a warrant canary. Why bother doing so when its track record of defying everyone from U.S. law enforcement to Russian legislature is out for everyone to see?

This take on transparency is a shockingly rare sight in an industry supposedly built around preserving one’s anonymity and activity on the World Wide Web. CyberGhost is another VPN provider that does something similar to PIA but on the whole, it’s tragicomic how many companies in the segment don’t even feign being transparent with their customers.

PIA, on the other hand, maintains a regularly updated transparency report detailing its run-ins with authorities, as well as archives thereof. It’s a simple and efficient solution for delivering crucial data in an easily digestible form with the purpose of building and maintaining customer trust. In an ideal world, this would be the only way VPNs could stay in business but it’s probably naive to hope for the government to step in and force companies to start making its own job harder, eh?

If you think of VPNs like figurative bodyguards of your digital identity and Internet usage, PIA is Secret Service material, a hardened veteran with a lifetime of training dedicated to curbing its natural instincts so that if worst comes to pass, it willingly dies to protect you, Lavabit-style.

Most of those other guys? They’re more along the following lines:

PIA Ease of Use

The actual PIA VPN is easy enough to use, though its overall aesthetic definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, regardless of their platform of choice. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but truth be told, PIA kind of looks like a failed experiment that escaped from Matias Duarte’s basement back in the Android 5.0 Lolipop’s days. Heck, even its logo looks like a poor man’s Bugdroid reading through a list of known Android vulnerabilities Google has yet to patch.

Perhaps we just can’t couldn’t spot good design if it slapped us in the face, perhaps PIA is just an elaborate ploy at subliminal brand messaging financed by Monster (hey, they paid to have a digital Norman Reedus handle their junk), but even if you don’t find them distracting, there’s no doubt this VPN’s looks are at the very least divisive.

PIA Pricing

PIA leans on the more affordable side of the VPN spectrum, with even the absolutely no-commitment option of renewing its subscription every month amounting to just $9.95 per that same month. As illustrated herein, you could get yourself a much better deal with a longer subscription – at $3.33 per month, PIA is a serious contender for the best-value VPN on the Internet.

That’s primarily why we’re inclined to forgive it for its lack of a free trial. Sure, it offers that same 30-day money-back every other VPN under the son does, and it isn’t even too sketchy about honoring it. Yet something about having to pony up our payment information before even trying yet another offspring of the software-as-a-service model just makes our skin crawl, and by “something”, we mean “absolutely everything”.

Oh well, at least PIA accepts cutting-edge anonymous payment methods. No, not cryptocurrency, that’s so 2016, ew. Everyone knows that people who truly care about not leaving a trail use gift cards! We’ll spare you the James Bond jokes originally prepared for this section and just say that gift cards aren’t really a bad idea in this context. You might argue they’re a pretty good one, actually. It’s just that they’re so much more inconvenient to procure than crypto, at least if you’re looking to obtain them anonymously. Then again, inconvenience is pretty much a quality certificate when it comes to digital privacy and security tools so what can we say? Deal with it.

Private Internet Access (PIA) Review Summary

PIA is in no way a perfect piece of VPN software but it is the perfect concept of one in an excellent position to continue improving. It’s a solution for bolstering your privacy and security made by a company that wants to get rich doing precisely that or die trying. It’s a reminder that the vast sea of spineless sellouts investors likes to call today’s “digital economy” still hides an occasional group of people who stand for something so firmly that their very ideals can serve as foundations of an inspiring business plan.

Finally, it’s a textbook example of how these numerical scores attached to the bottom of our reviews are completely arbitrary and utterly useless to anyone who doesn’t actually read the ramblings preceding them. Because PIA has considerable room for improvement in several respects but it’s also a VPN we’ll wholeheartedly recommend to absolutely anyone who is looking for one for any reason (other than, say, watching Budapesti avant-garde cinema exclusive to Netflix Hungary from Detroit).

If you not only care about your own privacy and security but want to reward companies that do the same, PIA is a VPN you should at least try because the number of comparable alternatives is depressingly limited. If you hate it, so be it, but that’s both unlikely and irresponsible to assume when making a purchase decision in a market so desperate for precisely this type of firm mixing prosumer ideals with a strong sense of civil liberties, some neat tech, and a bit of intelligent investments.

If PIA isn’t proof you can run a healthy business by putting consumers over governments and publicly traded spying machines, we’re not sure if such a thing could even exist. Then again, looking at its website that you could mistaken for a retirement home brochure, presumably because it was cobbled together on a three-fiddy budget, maybe we should just give up our ideals on privacy and let Facebook into our lives.


Editor’s Note

BSN’s PIA VPN Review has been written by Dominik Bosnjak, a long-time VPN-user-turned-advocate who spends more time scrutinizing VPN Providers on a daily basis than he’d like to admit. When he isn’t writing VPN Guides and covering general Tech News, he’s probably spending time with his dog, video games, or both. Fun fact: the Shih Tzu in question is the only remaining creature in Dominik’s life who hasn’t told him they’re sick of him talking about Best VPN practices and government-sponsored erosion of digital privacy which made using the Internet less convenient over the years. He occasionally dabbles in video editing, Wall Street memes, and demonstrating a remarkable lack of guitar-playing ability.

If you want more tidbit-sized rants about any of those things, you can find him on Twitter @dddominikk.

The overall score doesn’t represent an average of all individual ratings but a weighted average which values Performance as 33%, Privacy & Security as 33%, Ease of Use as 12%, and Pricing as 22% of the final figure. It’s meant to standardize our reviews by giving more weight to the attributes we value the most in VPNs (speed, privacy, and security) without completely disregarding the rest. Naturally, much like any other review out there, the starting points/ratings are still inherently subjective to a particular reviewer’s experience.

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