19 January 2023
A VPN or virtual private network is an essential tool for those who want to mask their browsing habits while they’re online. Private Internet Access or “PIA” for Mac is one of the most popular options available, and it offers great reliability, decent speeds, and plenty of options to choose from. It also imposes no restrictions and promises not to log any traffic data.
|Decent but not amazing speeds
|Plenty of location options to choose from
|Built-in ad blocking
|Does not log your activities
If you’re the kind of Mac user who cares about your privacy – especially when you’re online – then a reliable virtual private network (VPN) is a must. When you browse the web with a VPN, everything you do online is hidden and anonymized. No one, not even your internet service provider (ISP) and sometimes not even the VPN itself, can see what you’re up to. One of the biggest VPN services out there is Private Internet Access (PIA).Since it launched in 2010, PIA has acquired more than 15 million users around the world by offering a safe and reliable service. It promises to be extra careful with your data, doesn’t log any of your browsing activities, and it allows you to browse the internet from more than 2,000 servers across 78 countries. PIA doesn’t restrict your internet usage, and it’s affordable.
So, should you consider Private Internet Access if you’re looking for a VPN? We’ve been using the service for the past couple of weeks to find out.
PIA does everything a modern VPN service is expected to do and more. It not only masks your internet activities, but also includes an ad blocker that makes almost every website you visit cleaner and faster. A built-in kill switch ensures that if you lose your connection to PIA’s servers, your Mac goes offline until a safe connection can be restored, and there are plenty of user options to choose from. If you run into a problem, 24/7 customer support is available.
PIA gives you thousands of VPN servers across 78 countries to choose from. That means it’s not only great at hiding your activities, but it also gives you the option to access websites and streaming services that aren’t available in your country. After installing PIA on your Mac, activating the VPN connection is as simple as using the PIA controls in your menu bar.
Select the PIA button to open the menu, and in just a couple of clicks, you can choose the location you want to connect to the internet from, and start your VPN connection. Once it’s enabled, you’ll be browsing from a PIA server with a random IP address, which cannot be traced back to your computer. Everything you do is completely hidden.
That not only includes the websites you visit and any services you might use, but also the files and torrents you download. Not even your ISP is able to see what you’re up to, which prevents them from blocking your access to certain websites – like torrent hosts. What’s more, PIA is completely unlimited, so you can browse and download as much as you like.
In our experience, PIA has been incredibly reliable. It very rarely drops your connection – even when you’re using servers on the other side of the world – and when it does, you can set it so that your Mac is disconnected from the internet until a VPN connection can be resumed. This prevents your ISP from seeing what you’re up to while the VPN connection is down.
We’ve found PIA’s speeds to be decent, but not exceptional. I have a 500 Mbps connection at home, and although I only get around 400 Mbps over Wi-Fi thanks to a less than stellar router, I haven’t seen speeds increase over 250 Mbps when the PIA VPN is active. Having said that, PIA is as fast, if not faster, than other VPN services I’ve used in the past.
(Speed test with and without PIA enabled.)
Of course, speed can fluctuate a lot and depends on a number of factors, the most important of which is the VPN server you’re connected to. Servers in your home country are going to be a lot faster than those that are located thousands of miles away on another continent. Bear this in mind if you predominantly want to use a VPN to access services exclusive to other countries.
As we mentioned earlier, PIA takes user security incredibly seriously. It does not log user activity, and it uses strong end-to-end encryption that prevents third parties from intercepting your PIA connection to find out what you’re up to. In fact, not even PIA itself can access that information.
All PIA apps – including the Mac client – are 100% open source, which allows anyone to download and inspect their source code to ensure that they operate entirely as advertised. And unlike most VPN providers, PIA is completely transparent about the user data requests it receives from law enforcement and government agencies.
According to a tracker on its website, PIA has received nine court orders, six subpoenas, and six warrants to date. And it did not produce any logs or browsing data in any of those cases.
In addition to its wide range of server options and an automatic kill switch, PIA also offers some neat features for advanced users. This includes split tunneling, port forwarding, the ability to set automated rules, custom DNS options, remote ports, proxies, and more. And, if you need it, you can also pay a little more to add antivirus protection and a dedicated IP address.
The good news is that if you’re a novice VPN user, or you simply don’t need advanced features like this, you never have to worry about them. PIA is simple to set up on Mac, and when you need it, it can be activated and deactivated in just a couple of clicks.
Despite its impressive feature set, leading security, and almost countless server options, PIA is just as affordable as its closest competitors. Prices start at $11.99 per month, while six months is priced at $45. However, you can currently subscribe for two years for just $56.94, but note that after the first two years, this option is billed at $56.94 per year.
One of the best things about Private Internet Access is that it is immensely generous with its connections. As standard, one subscription lets you connect up to 10 devices simultaneously. That’s more than double the number of connections most VPNs offer.
Private Internet Access calls itself “the number one best VPN service,” and although we can’t verify that claim, we can certainly see why it’s so popular. It’s not only easy to set up and use on Mac, but in our testing, we’ve found it to be incredibly reliable. It very rarely drops your VPN connection, and although its speeds aren’t outstanding, they are very good.
I’ve used plenty of VPN services over the years, and very few have proven to be as reliable and as user-friendly as PIA. There are advanced options if you need them, built-in ad blocking as an added bonus, and optional antivirus protection if you’re willing to pay more. What’s more, PIA is affordable and generous with simultaneous connections.
Content Manager for the MacUpdate blog
Ruslana is a passionate Mac admirer and tech writer with 5+ years of experience in Mac support.