You’ve got strong passwords and two-factor authentication. You keep your antivirus up-to-date, you stay away from sketchy websites and you always make sure to log out of your accounts on shared devices… so you’re all set for privacy and security, right?
Well, maybe not – your data could still be intercepted by hackers or governments, revealing everything from your passwords to your credit card details to the content of your emails. And cookies and trackers still follow you everywhere around the web, collecting your browsing activity and personal info for advertising and price manipulation purposes.
The best defense against these types of privacy invasions is a VPN, which lets you obscure your location, mask your IP address and encrypt your data. With it, you can use public WiFi without worry, protect your identity while torrenting and even access geo-restricted web content – all with just a couple of clicks.
PrivateVPN claims to provide you with all of these perks, plus ultra-fast speeds, user-friendly apps and top-notch customer support. In our PrivateVPN review, we’ll put these claims to the test – let’s get started!
Founded in 2009, PrivateVPN is owned by the Swedish company Privat Kommunikation AB. Other than this basic information, the company is, well, private about its origins and ownership.
PrivateVPN’s website is pretty in purple – and pretty light on product information. VPN newbies might find the brief overviews of VPN use cases and security benefits helpful, but if you already know the basics of how a VPN works, you probably won’t learn anything new.
The Security Features page, for example, doesn’t discuss the kill switch or leak protection features that PrivateVPN offers. Rather, it gives a quick introduction to encryption in general, with the only specific mention of PrivateVPN’s features being the encryption cipher used.
You can find much more information on PrivateVPN’s blog, though most of it pertains to things like streaming sites and global privacy news rather than VPNs specifically. The company posts about app updates and new features on the blog.
PrivateVPN offers apps for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. There is no Linux app, but PrivateVPN provides manual configuration guides for using OpenVPN via the Network Manager or a command-line interface.
Manual configuration guides are available for routers from Asus and Linksys, as well as routers from other companies that run DD-WRT, Tomato or pfSense custom firmware. PrivateVPN can also be configured on NAS systems from Synology and QNAP.
BlackBerry and OpenELEC Kodi users can also use PrivateVPN’s guides to use the VPN on their devices. Additionally, PrivateVPN provides OpenVPN config files so the VPN can be used on any device that supports OpenVPN.
The PrivateVPN website states that the VPN can be used as an SSL VPN via OpenConnect (for Windows) or AnyConnect (for macOS). However, only the AnyConnect guide works; the OpenConnect guide is a blank page, so if you wish to use OpenConnect you’ll need to be intrepid enough to figure out the setup on your own.
When you boot up the PrivateVPN desktop app for the first time, you’ll begin in Simple Mode. As the name implies, this is a simple interface designed for those who just want to get connected and get back to browsing.
A drop-down list expands to list all of PrivateVPN’s servers. There’s no “recommended server” option for automatic selection, so you’ll need to scroll through the list, pick a server and hit the “Connect” button; once you do, you’ll be shown a “Connected” icon as well as your new IP address.
If that’s all you need, you can minimize the app and go about your business as usual. But if you’d prefer a more customized experience, or if you’re just curious about the rest of PrivateVPN’s features, you can click the “Advanced” button in the lower right corner to expand your options.
And we mean that literally – in Advanced Mode, the app window expands to twice its original size, with a tabbed navigation bar on the left. You start off on the “Dashboard” tab, where you can see your connection status, server and IP address just as you would in Simple Mode.
But underneath that information, you’ll see many more options, including connection type (or protocol), encryption and port forwarding. You’ll also be shown your connection uptime in the form of a live counter.
The next tab is the Settings tab, where you can opt to start the PrivateVPN client when your OS boots, connect to the VPN automatically when opening the app, reconnect automatically if the connection fails and receive notifications from the app (such as when the VPN connects or disconnects). You can also change your language, view the app’s log files and, on Windows, install or repair your TAP adapter (this is a special driver used by VPNs that acts as a bridge between the VPN client and your network card).
Next is the Connection Guard tab, which houses settings like IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection, the kill switch and Application Guard (see the “Security” section for more on these features). Finally, you can go to the Stealth VPN tab to enable or disable Stealth Mode (again, more on this in the “Security” section).
The mobile apps offer most of the settings found in the desktop apps, with the exceptions of the kill switch, Application Guard and, on Android, protocol switching. Android users do get the benefit of being able to add servers to a favorites list, a feature that’s sadly missing from the other apps.
Usability Score: 3.75 / 5
PrivateVPN’s website is a little sparse, but thankfully that doesn’t reflect on the rest of this VPN’s usability. If you already have a pretty good idea of what a VPN is and how to use one, you shouldn’t have any problem navigating the site, downloading the app and getting started.
The apps themselves offer a choice between Simple and Advanced Mode – a nice touch that makes them versatile enough for both new and seasoned VPN users. In Advanced Mode, the settings are well-organized and cover most of the necessary bases, though we do wish there were more finely-tuned auto-connect options, such as automatically connecting only on unsecured or untrusted WiFi networks.
Another feature that’s noticeably bare-bones is the location picker, which doesn’t include a recommended server function, a favorites list or stats like ping times and loads. Things are a little better on Android, which does have a favorites list as well as a streamlined server list that lets you view servers by country rather than all in one list.
Overall, though, the PrivateVPN user experience is smooth and hassle-free regardless of your experience level and without sacrificing the features that matter most – exactly the way a VPN should be.
Servers and Locations
PrivateVPN offers over 100 servers in 60 countries.
Most servers are concentrated in Europe and North America – there are 14 servers in nine cities in the USA, six servers in two cities in the UK and three servers in two cities in both Sweden and Canada. Other countries with multiple servers include Australia (two in Sydney and one in Melbourne), India (one each in Bangalore and Chennai), Italy (one each in Arezzo and Milan) and Ukraine (one each in Kiev and Nikolaev).
Asia’s servers are located in Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam – an excellent distribution, especially considering the relatively small size of PrivateVPN’s server fleet. Equally impressive is the lineup in Central and South America, where you can choose from servers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.
Options are more limited in the Middle East, where only Israel and the UAE have servers. In Africa, the sole server is located in South Africa, so users in the northern half of the continent may be better off connecting to a Middle Eastern or European server instead.
PrivateVPN offers servers in three countries that have been known to take adversarial positions against VPNs: Turkey, Russia and the UAE. While users in these countries should still be cautious about their internet activity, these servers should make things much safer for them.
VPN speeds vary wildly from user to user, and there are a number of reasons for this discrepancy: user locations, server locations, hardware capabilities, server load, ISP throttling and even the weather can impact speeds. For this reason, we don’t advise placing too much stock in others’ reported speeds – chances are, you’ll never get the same result.
We prefer to gauge VPN speeds by examining them relative to base internet speeds, then to the relative speed test results of other top VPNs. We like to see speed losses of no more than 20% on local connections, 50% on transatlantic connections (such as USA-UK or vice-versa) and 80% on other long-distance connections.
Local connections meet our benchmark with ease, with an average speed loss of just 10-15%. This is unlikely to be noticeable on all but the slowest base connections – on a typical home cable or fiber internet connection, you probably won’t be able to discern any speed loss at all.
Performance is also strong on Europe-North America connections, which decrease speeds by around 30-35%. That’s good news for those who love media from across the pond, as streaming should be smooth and free from buffering interruptions.
Ultra-long-distance connections do falter, but no more than expected: UK-Australia connections, for instance, reduce speeds by around 80%. At this rate of speed loss, you might have to deal with long loading times if you’re streaming 4K video, but considering that the two locations are on opposite sides of the world, that’s bound to happen no matter which VPN provider you use.
As Netflix and other streaming sites tighten their grip on the VPN ban hammer, more and more VPN providers are de-emphasizing their streaming capabilities. What was once a selling point for these providers is often now reduced to a line or two about how “streaming access is not guaranteed.”
PrivateVPN is not one of these providers. In fact, its Netflix page boasts that it can access a whopping 19 different Netflix sites from around the world – not just the USA, the UK and Canada but also France, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and South Korea.
This is an incredible amount of international content, so lovers of foreign films and TV will have a field day with all of these options. But it’s also great for users who live in these countries and travel abroad, as they’ll be able to access their native Netflix content from anywhere in the world.
PrivateVPN also unblocks BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, ABC and Hulu. Given the impeccable track record that PrivateVPN has with these sites, it’s likely that other sites work with it as well.
Performance Score: 4.5 / 5
PrivateVPN’s server numbers seem low in comparison to competing VPNs, which can offer hundreds or even thousands of servers, but PrivateVPN emphasizes quality over quantity in its server offerings. It’s nice to have lots of servers to choose from, but it’s even nicer to have a small but nicely-distributed and reliable collection of servers, which is what you get with PrivateVPN.
Even considering the small server count, PrivateVPN has the world pretty well-covered, with a higher-than-average number of locations in Central and South America. Coverage in Europe, North America and Asia is thorough as well; the only regions we found lacking were Africa and the Middle East, but the same is true of pretty much every other VPN provider.
Speeds are great across the board, which is a good thing, because so is streaming site access. With 19 different countries’ Netflix sites accessible through PrivateVPN, binge-watchers need not worry about running out of content and globetrotters need not worry about losing access to their home countries’ media.
All of the other big names in streaming, including Hulu and BBC iPlayer, are also unblocked by PrivateVPN, so you’re not limited to Netflix’s catalog of content, either. In a nutshell, PrivateVPN is a streamer’s dream – it just goes to show that it’s better to be excellent at one thing than mediocre at many.
Your VPN protocol impacts your connection speed, reliability, device compatibility and, in some cases, security. PrivateVPN offers five VPN protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, IPsec, L2TP/IPsec and PPTP.
OpenVPN is the most popular, most recommended VPN protocol. It’s open-source, which means it’s been vetted for security and code integrity by programmers and developers around the world, plus it’s optimized to achieve high speeds without sacrificing encryption strength.
With PrivateVPN, you can switch between OpenVPN UDP (for best speeds) and TCP (for better reliability and fewer dropped packets). UDP is the recommended option; use TCP if you’re having issues with being blocked by firewalls or incomplete data transfers.
Uniquely, PrivateVPN also lets you switch between OpenVPN TAP and TUN modes. You’ll almost always want to use TUN, which transports only IPv4 traffic; if you need to use the VPN to transport other types of traffic, such as IPv6 or IPX, or if you need to access local network servers or play LAN games, you can use TAP.
The OpenVPN website has more information on TAP and TUN if you’re still confused. But chances are, if you need TAP mode, you’ll know it, and if not, stick with TUN.
PrivateVPN offers OpenVPN in all of its apps, including iOS. It’s the only protocol option in the Android app.
A popular choice on mobile devices, IKEv2/IPsec provides a similar level of security to OpenVPN, but with the added benefit of being able to sustain the VPN connection when switching between mobile data and WiFi; other protocols must reestablish the connection when switching. It’s also very fast, so it’s a good choice for high-bandwidth applications like torrenting and streaming.
However, there are a few downsides to IKEv2/IPsec: it runs only on UDP, so it can sometimes get blocked by firewalls. It’s also closed-source, so there’s no way to tell exactly what’s going on under the hood – and some leaked documents suggest that the NSA has taken an interest in figuring out how to implement a backdoor into the IPsec protocol.
A shorter way of saying IKEv1/IPsec, this is IKEv2/IPsec’s predecessor. IPsec is mostly useful for compatibility purposes, as the newer version is both faster and more secure; if your device doesn’t support IKEv2/IPsec or if you’re having issues with it, you can try IPsec.
An older protocol that’s mostly obsolete at this point, L2TP/IPsec still has a couple of useful applications despite its slowness. It’s supported by just about every device made within the last 20 years, and it’s also the recommended protocol for users in China and others who are subject to VPN blocks due to its low detectability.
PPTP is the oldest VPN protocol still commonly in use today. It’s over two decades old, so it can run smoothly on pretty much any device or OS regardless of processing power, but over the course of its life it’s been cracked numerous times, rendering its protection useless.
That’s not to say that any data sent over PPTP will automatically be exposed, just that it’s much more vulnerable to attack. If you’re dealing with sensitive information, you should use a different protocol.
On the other hand, PPTP’s age means that it’s extremely fast on modern hardware, so some VPN users like to utilize it for streaming and other tasks that demand a lot of bandwidth. Basically, it’s not a good idea to use PPTP unless you know what you’re doing and accept the risks, but in certain situations, you’ll be glad you have the option.
PrivateVPN allows you to customize your encryption strength depending on the protocol you choose.
OpenVPN TAP mode uses only Blowfish 128-bit CBC encryption. In practice, this shouldn’t be an issue as BF-128-CBC doesn’t have any known security holes, but it’s not as strong as the more common AES encryption cipher.
Thankfully, OpenVPN TUN mode (which is what 99% of users will stick with) does use AES encryption. You can choose between AES-128-CBC, AES-128-GCM, AES-256-CBC and AES-256-GCM.
The number in the cipher name refers to the bitsize of the encryption key – a 256-bit key is twice as long as a 128-bit key, which translates to higher security but longer processing times. AES-128 is still perfectly secure, so you can use it if you’d like a speed boost, but for higher-security applications, AES-256’s slower processing speeds might be worth the extra peace of mind.
The three-letter code at the end of the cipher name refers to the block cipher mode, which is a more advanced cryptography topic that’s beyond the scope of this review. Essentially, the difference is that GCM incorporates authentication into the cipher rather than requiring a separate authentication cipher, which results in lower processing times on modern hardware (but can be slower on older hardware that doesn’t support parallel processing).
Most users will want to choose AES-128-GCM or AES-256-GCM, depending on their desired security strength. If you choose AES-128-CBC or AES-256-CBC instead, your data will be authenticated with SHA256 HMAC and the key exchange will be performed via TLS-ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384(AEAD) – in plain English, it’ll be locked down tight.
Workplaces and governments utilize many techniques to detect and block VPN traffic. These entities have a vested interest in monitoring and controlling internet activity, so they make use of firewalls, DPI and other tools that can identify VPN data and prevent it from being transmitted.
PrivateVPN’s Stealth VPN feature allows you to bypass these blocking mechanisms and get online with your VPN. It prevents DPI and similar tools from detecting VPN identifiers in your traffic’s metadata, thus increasing your chances of slipping past blockades at school, at work and in restrictive countries.
When your VPN connection drops, it can be a while before you realize it. During that time, any data you transmit will use your regular, unsecured internet connection, which means that you’ll be vulnerable to IP leaks, data thieves and many other types of internet dangers.
PrivateVPN offers a kill switch on its Windows app to prevent this. When activated, it kills all internet traffic in the event of a VPN error or connection loss, ensuring that you never inadvertently carry out any unsecured activity.
Similar to the kill switch, PrivateVPN’s Application Guard feature for Windows allows you to specify individual apps to kill when your VPN connection drops. This is handy if, for example, you want to prevent your torrent client and web browser from using your unsecured connection but leave Spotify and your weather widget running.
Security Score: 4 / 5
PrivateVPN’s security is, overall, pretty impressive. The main issue lies in the uneven distribution of security features across the apps, with some OSes getting more benefits than others.
We like that PrivateVPN allows you to choose between OpenVPN TUN and TAP modes, a level of customization that we don’t usually see. Encryption is also customizable, and we like that the options include AES-GCM, the latest and most efficient cipher mode.
The fact that OpenVPN is available on all devices is another big plus, as iOS and macOS users frequently miss out on this protocol due to the difficulties involved in building it into Apple-approved VPN apps.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the kill switch and Application Guard, which are Windows-only features. In our opinion, a kill switch is an indispensable VPN feature, so we’re a little disappointed that three out of four PrivateVPN apps don’t offer one; if you use macOS, iOS or Android, you may be better off downloading a third-party VPN client with a kill switch and manually configuring it to use PrivateVPN’s servers.
PrivateVPN Privacy and Policies
PrivateVPN is based in Sweden, which is a mixed bag in terms of privacy-friendliness. On one hand, Sweden is a member of the EU and thus is subject to the GDPR, which gives users the right to obtain and, to a certain extent, control any of their personal data that’s handled or stored by European companies.
On the other hand, Sweden is a member of Fourteen Eyes, the international surveillance alliance that also includes such infamous privacy violators as the USA, the UK and Australia. Since the group’s activities are so secretive, it’s impossible to say for sure how involved Sweden is in them, but the mere fact of its membership is cause for alarm for some people.
Sweden does have mandatory data retention laws, but these only apply to “electronic communications services” like ISPs and mobile broadband providers, not VPNs. PrivateVPN is not legally required to store any user data for any length of time, and although any data that passes through a Swedish ISP is stored by the ISP, it’s encrypted and thus unreadable.
While PrivateVPN does need to comply with lawful requests from Swedish authorities for user information, it does not need to do so with foreign requests; any international authorities must have their requests approved by the Swedish courts in order to enforce them. The company is also limited by the amount of information it stores, as it can’t turn over what it doesn’t possess.
PrivateVPN’s logging policy is pretty straightforward: when you register an account, you need to provide an email address and a password. These are the only pieces of personal data that are stored.
No session data of any kind is collected or stored. This includes IP addresses, server locations, visited URLs, downloaded files, timestamps, bandwidth logs and any other data pertaining to your VPN usage and activity.
PrivateVPN does allow torrenting on all of its servers, though it recommends its Swedish servers for P2P users. This is merely a suggestion rather than a restriction; it’s not clear what the rationale is for it, but our guess is that PrivateVPN’s home servers are better suited to handle the extra bandwidth used by P2P applications.
Port forwarding is allowed, so torrenters will be able to connect to their full peerlist and reach top speeds.
Privacy and Policies Score: 4.25 / 5
As far as other types of logs, those are pretty minimal, consisting only of an email address that identifies your account. If you don’t want to use your real one, it’s easy enough to make an anonymous email account and register with that, completely separating your real identity from your PrivateVPN account.
The lack of logs is a good thing considering Sweden’s iffy stance on digital privacy. Even if Sweden decided to give its Fourteen Eyes buddies full access to all of its internet companies’ user data, your VPN data would still be safe – everything is encrypted while in transit, and nothing other than your email address is stored, so the most anyone would be able to find out is that you have a PrivateVPN account.
Still, if you’re highly concerned about government access to your data and want to steer clear of even the most hypothetical risks, you might want to choose a provider in a country that’s not a member of any surveillance alliances.
On the other hand, PrivateVPN might be perfect for you if you’re a heavy torrenter. With port forwarding capabilities and a welcoming attitude towards P2P, it’s an excellent choice for all types of filesharing, whether you’re streaming with Popcorn Time or racking up your ratios in uTorrent.
PrivateVPN Service and Value
You can reach PrivateVPN’s customer support via live chat or email ticket. We found that both the live chat button and the email ticket form were invisible until we disabled our ad blocker, so you may need to do the same in order to contact support.
The Contact page claims that using the live chat option will get you an “instant response,” but when we tried it and hit the “Send” button, we were shown a message stating that a response would be emailed to us within 24 hours.
On the Pricing page, PrivateVPN claims to have 24/7 customer support, but that’s clearly not the case if the live chat is, at times, little more than another email form. The actual hours of operation for the live chat aren’t shown anywhere, so you’ll have to get lucky to catch it while it’s truly live.
Because of this, the live chat and email ticket options are one and the same, at least sometimes. But on the bright side, PrivateVPN doesn’t outsource its customer support, so your query will always be answered by a developer with real knowledge of the VPN.
Additionally, PrivateVPN offers free remote support through TeamViewer, an application that allows a support rep to temporarily control your computer. This unique feature lets PrivateVPN assist with VPN installation, configuration and troubleshooting while you sit back and relax, so it’s perfect for tech novices and others who need a bit of extra help.
Pricing and Payment
PrivateVPN offers one service tier: unlimited speeds, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited server switching and six simultaneous connections. No add-ons, like extra simultaneous connections or static IPs, are available.
Three pricing tiers are available: one month for $7.67, three months for $14.63 (equivalent to $4.88 per month) and 13 months for $49.68 (equivalent to $3.82 per month). The 13-month plan is marketed as a 12-month plan with one month free.
All plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Compared to the seven- or 14-day refund periods offered by many VPN providers, this is an excellent perk.
A seven-day free trial is available with no payment information required. However, we did notice that after clicking the link on the free trial page, prices increased to $10.95 for the monthly plan, $22.50 for the three-month plan and $72.00 for the 12-month plan (you lose the free month as well).
It appears that the free trial and the pricing scheme advertised on the PrivateVPN website are incompatible, so make sure to click the right link (or clear your cookies) if you’re switching between the two.
Payment is accepted via Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, JCB, Diners Club, PayPal and Bitcoin. Credit card payments are made through Stripe, while Bitcoin payments need to be manually transferred to PrivateVPN’s Bitcoin wallet with the cryptocurrency processor of your choice.
Service and Value Score: 3.5 / 5
PrivateVPN’s customer support has some great perks – the remote TeamViewer assistance, the in-house support reps – and some disappointing downsides – the adblocked contact forms, the misleading or downright inaccurate claims of “instant” and “24/7” live chat support. It’s great in terms of knowledge and level of assistance, but urgent issues might not get handled as quickly as you’d like.
Pricing ranges from slightly above average (if you check out after using the free trial code) to well below average (if you don’t click the trial link and visit the pricing page directly from the homepage). The disparate prices are likely to confuse some users, so we recommend clearing your cookies before checking out – and frankly, with all of the cookie-based price change tricks being pulled these days, that’s not a bad idea on any site.
With that said, the presence of the free trial and the 30-day refund period are both big pluses in our eyes. Just as you test drive a car before buying it, so too should you be able to test out a VPN before subscribing to it, and you get a grand total of 37 days to do so with PrivateVPN.
We also like that Bitcoin is accepted – combine it with an anonymous email address and you can keep your PrivateVPN account totally separate from your real identity. Hopefully more anonymous payment options, like other cryptocurrencies and retailer gift cards, are accepted in the future.
Final Score: 4 / 5
PrivateVPN has a lot going for it in many different departments. There’s something for the power user, the VPN newbie, the binge-watcher, the torrent lover, the privacy fiend, the penny pincher and the everyday web surfer – there’s no such thing as universal appeal, but PrivateVPN comes pretty close.
Though the website’s info-light approach leaves something to be desired, our doubts were quickly allayed once we saw the PrivateVPN app. The distinct Simple and Advanced modes make it one of the more versatile VPN apps we’ve seen, with Advanced mode in particular impressing us.
Things only get better once you get connected. Though PrivateVPN doesn’t offer as many servers as most of its competitors, it’s not a big deal: the servers are surprisingly well-distributed, particularly in Asia and South America, and speeds are solid across the board.
Streaming is one of PrivateVPN’s strongest suits – you can access Netflix sites from nearly a third of the countries on the server list, including ones we haven’t seen available from any other VPN provider. It’s safe to say that this is a VPN that takes website unblocking seriously, so if that’s your motivation for getting a VPN, look no further.
Security, too, is excellent, with OpenVPN on all platforms, customizable encryption and an optional Stealth mode. On Windows, the options are even more diverse, including one of our favorites: the versatile Application Guard app-specific kill switch.
We’re a little disappointed that other OSes don’t have the same security features, with the lack of a kill switch being particularly noticeable. Hopefully PrivateVPN pushes a security update to its macOS, iOS and Android apps soon.
Also on our wish list: an upgraded location picker for all apps, not just Android. A favoriting function would save quite a bit of scrolling when switching servers, and stats like ping times and load figures would aid in server selection.
The hit-or-miss customer support is a bummer, but we do like that PrivateVPN offers remote TeamViewer assistance. Technical knowledge is perhaps the biggest barrier to entry with VPNs, but with remote support, you don’t have to lift a finger to install and configure your VPN.
A no-logs policy, budget-friendly pricing, six simultaneous connections and Bitcoin acceptance round out PrivateVPN’s features in a very good way. We like what we’ve seen from this VPN and can’t wait to see how it continues to grow in the future.
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