Who Protects Your Privacy Better?
In the constant war for your internet data, we’ve entered an age where companies are willing to protect you for a price. Two of the biggest names in VPN security are NordVPN and PIA (Private Internet Access) and we’ve compared the two to determine which is better at their job. While both offer solid protection and excel at certain points, NordVPN is the superior company when considering all parameters which we measured.
Why Use a VPN?
A virtual private network is almost a necessity for navigating the internet anymore, due to the multitude of companies, government entities, and criminals vying for your personal data. A VPN allows you to access the internet indirectly by routing your IP through a remote, virtual access point. This prevents your actual IP from being linked back to your online activity, including searches, downloads, or anything else you don’t want someone spying on.
With this in mind, there are some very hard points to consider when choosing a VPN, and I will go through each of them to compare these two companies. The parameters on which they’ll be measured are as follows:
Both NordVPN and PIA offer competitive enrollment packages, but only Nord offers a free trial. It’s not a necessary factor but it’s a nice way to explore the application and see if it works for your needs. While you shouldn’t cut corners on expenses like this, the reality is that the price will (and should) play a part in your decision.
While PIA is cheaper both month-to-month, and annually, Nord offers subscriptions of two and three years at a time, driving the price down to potentially 2.99/month. Of course, you might not want to sign a contract for 2 or 3 years initially and so PIA’s much cheaper out-of-the-gate option is simply better.
The only other factor is the trial, money-back period; PIA only offers a 7-day money-back guarantee whereas Nord’s is a whopping 30 days. Still, in terms of cost, PIA is the winner here.
While you would think that a VPN service would be by nature completely private, they do need to get some of your data. Both services require you to register, but just with an email and name, and since neither company keeps data logs, all any intrusive entity would see is that you’re a customer.
Beyond that, however, both accept Bitcoin as payment, allowing you to be completely removed from any kind of real paper or data trail. There is one clear difference between the two companies, however, and that’s where they’re based.
Nord is based in Panama, a country with incredibly consumer-friendly privacy laws, which is another layer of insurance that they do not keep data log of any kind. In addition, if a foreign government subpoenas them for user data, they can inform their customers ahead of time, as they do not need to comply with gag orders. Nord goes so far as to offer a “canary” service that goes down whenever there is an information request.
PIA unfortunately is located in the continental United States, a country not as user-friendly in terms of privacy on the internet. Though they too do not keep data logs, they are much more likely to be “forced” to give up information on their customers by virtue of their location. Nord is simply the more privacy-secure of the two.
Since you want to be constantly using your VPN when you’re online, you need it to be ready at all times. This requires 2 things:
- That the servers you can connect to will be there, up and running
- That the connection you’re on is stable
Where this matters is if you’re trying to connect to a server in another country – if those servers are down a lot, it doesn’t do you much good. In addition, if those servers have a habit of crashing while you’re browsing, that can be terrible, resulting in a DNS leak and potentially risking exposure.
Nord has over 2,000 servers across 61 countries throughout the world, which is an impressive number and should allow you to connect from almost anywhere. The problem that Nord has however is that a lot of these servers aren’t incredibly reliable, so despite that huge number, not all of them are going to be consistently useful.
PIA on the other hand boasts over 3,000 servers, but there’s a catch; they’re all within 25 countries. So if you’re in the UK and you want to watch content that’s blocked in your country and so you try to connect through say Estonia, you probably won’t have that option with PIA. Despite the so-so quality of all of Nord’s servers, they still win out in terms of reliability.
Both PIA and Nord offer apps that are pretty high functioning on Android, allowing you to control your VPN from your mobile device and also utilize it from your mobile as well. Where Nord’s app is very slick with many options, PIAs is incredibly simple, with a pop-out advanced options menu that will allow you to customize some of the more high-end options.
Both are on Android, iOS, Windows, and Linux, and both are pretty straightforward if you simply want to connect and use the internet right away. Because of this, I would consider this a tie.
Going back to the server access, the speed reduction from connecting to the internet through a VPN can be a problem. If you’re trying to torrent, stream media, or play games and you’re consistently losing speed, you’re far less likely to want to continue to use that VPN.
When testing VPN speeds, there are two things to consider – local connection speed and international connection speed. Assuming you live in the US, PIA performs at about 93% of the unprotected ISP connection speed, which is really amazing considering how cheap its basic option is.
Nord’s speeds are actually slightly less, clocking in at around 90-91% of the unprotected ISP speed. Still, this isn’t a big enough difference outside of a vacuum for it to make or break your decision.
The true measure is international speeds, particularly the UK. Speeds for PIA measured at about the same – 94% when connecting with a UK server. Nord, however, saw significant slowdown – around 79%, which is a dramatic reduction in connection speed and would definitely be noticed.
There is little doubt that in this comparison, PIA is the faster of the two VPNs.
While some VPNs simply offer a connect-and-forget service, both PIA and Nord have a vast array of additional features, some useful and some not. A short list of some of the most important features the apps offer is:
- App killswitch – this, once enabled, will immediately shut down certain applications if you lose connection to the VPN but persist online. Both PIA and Nord have this feature and it’s a critically important one, particularly for torrenters.
- Heavy-duty encrpytion – both Nord and PIA offer AES-256 encryption.
- Multiple connections – effectively the same thing as “licensing” on some software, Nord allows up to 6 simultaneous connections to their VPN servers from one account. PIA offers 5 such connections, but the biggest difference is that Nord requires each individual device to have a different connection protocol, whereas PIA does not.
- GPS server location – Nord actually has an interesting little console that shows you, on a Google-maps type display, where active servers are in relation to you. PIA doesn’t have this.
- Exotic platform compatibility – Nord works on Windows XP to Windows 10, Linux, Android, macOS, and iOS, just like PIA. Where they differ is that Nord is also available on Chrome OS, Windows Phone, and Raspberry Pi and some very specific wireless router operating systems.
Because of the sheer amount of useful additional features, Nord is the stronger candidate here.
Naturally you’re going to want good customer support, especially for something that you will come to view as vital for your online excursions. PIA and Nord both offer a few different support options of varying degrees of usefulness:
- Do-it-yourself library of information – both PIA and Nord
- Live customer chat – Nord only, and it’s incredibly useful
- Email-based, human support – Nord only
- Ticket-based support – both companies offer a ticket-based support platform, and PIA’s response time was actually much faster than Nord’s
When you’re having trouble connecting to your VPN, out of your typical server coverage area, or simply not able to find what you’re looking for, live chat goes a longway. Nord has the better customer support without a doubt.
If you live in the United States or have never used a VPN, this category might seem odd. For anyone who lives outside of the US, however, it can be pretty important. Netflix is blocked in many countries due to a variety of reasons, but it comes down to the fact that many people cannot access this giant of streaming without a VPN.
Being able to use Netflix via a VPN requires great speed and the ability to actually connect, something PIA can’t offer; all of its IPs are blocked by Netflix. While this is the case with most VPN companies, Nord works flawlessly with Netflix, making it the obvious winner here.
Something to consider if you’re using a VPN to torrent media is whether or not your VPN will actually workfor torrenting. Many outright won’t allow you to connect to torrenting sites, some work fine, and some like PIA actually are somewhat optimized for P2P sharing.
PIA has been the go-to for torrenters since they started. While Nord doesn’t restrict torrenting on its servers, PIA has many torrenting servers that are actually optimized for P2P file sharing. This means you can really get some incredible reliability as people are more apt to seed media if they know the server is fast and secure.
Though both services offer a variety of torrent-friendly features:
- Killswitches in case of VPN shutdown to prevent IP leaks
- High speeds
- Multiple torrent locations
- No data logging policies
Because of PIA’s optimized torrenting servers and long-term torrenting friendliness, they are the winner here.
Nord has a considerable amount of additional features which make it stand out in a field that is littered with competitors, including:
- Anti-DDOS protection
- Customizable killswitch
- Netflix friendly servers
- Dedicated IP addresses (which means they’re less likely to be blocked)
- Vast array of servers in many countries
- The ability to actively choose your server based on usage (rather than being routed secretly by the VPN)
PIA is optimized to be cheaper, lighter, and function for the uninitiated very well. The long track record PIA has with being extremely torrent-friendly may be something that is more appealing for torrenters for sure. PIA also has a built-in “MACE” feature that protects against ads, trackers, and malware, though Nord has very recently updated with a Cybersec feature that is basically the same thing; it just needs to be accessed and turned on.
While PIA does offer some very specific usefulness – mainly international connection speed and torrenting-friendliness, Nord beats it in nearly every category. The biggest problem is with the difference between their customer support options. Nord has excellent, fast customer service and while PIA’s isn’t terrible, it’s definitely a few steps behind Nord.
The other glaring issue is that PIA cannot connect to streaming services. If you’re outside of the US, you might be using a VPN simply to connect to Netflix, so this is a critical shortfall. Nord also simply has many extra added-value features AND has the better pricing if you’re going with a 2 or 3 year plan.
Not to say that PIA isn’t a good VPN because it is, but Nord is simply the better company overall.
Does PIA Being Based in the United States Carry More Privacy Risk?
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation sued PIA for records in multiple cases of supposed internet criminality. In all three of these cases, federal judges ruled in favor of PIA’s anti-logging policies, so they are literally precedent-setting in the fight for internet privacy. This suggests that while they arepotentially more liable than a company like Nord based in Panama, they aren’t afraid to defend their users’ rights to privacy in court.
How Do Nord and PIA Handle the Great Firewall of China?
It is known that China carries a large hurdle in connecting to blocked media outside of the country, and that it’s further complicated by using a VPN. PIA offers strong encryption that can bypass the Chinese firewall and unblock content from outside of the country just fine.
Nord takes it a few steps further, offering 3 distinct levels of security from prying government eyes:
- Double VPNs, which means you connect to a VPN, and then that VPN connects to another one, confounding your activity that much further
- Onion over VPN, which routes from your VPN connection to the Onion network, adding another layer of privacy
- Obfuscated servers, which provide the ability to bypass network firewalls
So both can bypass China’s highly restrictive internet, but Nord can do much more or rather make it appear that you’re doing much less.