Private Internet Access VPN review
If you want to watch region-locked content like US Netflix or browse the web anonymously, you may want to use a virtual private network (VPN), which masks your IP address when you're online. We explain how VPNs work in more detail in our full VPN guide, but here we review one service in particular: Private Internet Access (PIA).
The initial impression of PIA is that the interface is terse, bordering on non-existent. In fact, after the usual Windows installation package has done its stuff, there's very little to see onscreen.
Simply select a country, and a few seconds later you're connected. At just 13 seconds, connection to a server on the US east coast is very fast, which is what you want when binging on geo-locked shows.
To see the user interface, you right-click the task bar icon. This displays your login information, options to start PIA at login, and the connection region and language preferences.
It's only when you click 'Advanced' that you see that there's a VPN kill switch, an advert, tracker and malware blocker, and DNS leak protection available. The kill switch works by cutting all internet connections rather than killing applications.
Right-clicking the VPN icon is how you connect to the VPN. This presents a long list of locations, and many are in the US and UK. The selection of individual servers seems to be based on the least load at the time.
The automatic server selection doesn't seem to affect Netflix US access, however. I clicked 'US West' and could watch US-only content first time, every time.
Apps are available for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, and Ubuntu Linux. On the Android version, the interface is even more sparse. Simply swipe the switch in the centre of the interface to connect.
Click the region at the bottom of the screen to access the same list of locations as in the Windows version. Select one and you connect.
£5/USD$6.95 per month unlocks all the VPN's features, including anti-malware, ad and tracker blocking, and up to five simultaneous devices. A yearly subscription is very cheap at £2.40/$3.33, and there's a two year option for an even cheaper £2.10/$2.91. You can even pay anonymously with gift cards, as well as all the usual options.
There are also a huge number of servers (over 3,250) in 25 countries, ensuring short setup times and fast connections.
Slightly concerning is that the Windows installation package is not signed. This means that the user cannot tell if the package is what it says it is. Users with a serious need for online anonymity will baulk at installing anything that has not been signed.
We raised a support ticket about signing, and despite a warning that there was higher than usual support traffic, the response was swift.
PIA is based in the US. The website says that this is a good thing because the US does not have a mandatory data retention policy, but the US is in the top tier of the '14 eyes' group of countries, meaning user data could be shared between governments. This will no doubt be one VPN considered off limits for those with serious privacy requirements.
SHOULD I BUY PRIVATE INTERNET ACCESS?
Easy Netflix US access and a low-cost subscription make PIA a priority for home users, but those with a need for privacy will be unimpressed with the unsigned installation package.