Private Tunnel, based in the USA, is the commercial wing of the makers of OpenVPN. OpenVPN is the open-source VPN client and protocol that we generally recommend as providing the best standard of security for general VPN use. Private Tunnel uses only the OpenVPN protocol and we were pleased to find that its desktop client is lightweight, cleanly designed and easy to use.
Unlike most VPN services, Private Tunnel doesn't charge a subscription fee but instead allows you to buy blocks of data. Once bought, your data never expires, making these tiers of Private Tunnel's service ideal for users who use VPNs occasionally but intensively.
Also, unlike rival service providers, you can use your account on as many different devices as you need.
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New subscribers currently receive 2GB for free, with more available via referrals. $9.99 (£6.94) gets you 20GB of data, while $19.99 (£13.88) gets you 100GB. If you want a regular subscription, with the company's Unlimited package you receive 12 months of unlimited data for a very reasonable $29.99 (£20.82), but this is restricted to 10 devices.
Private Tunnel provides clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Android and iOS, and a downloadable profile that you can plug into any OpenVPN client – for example, on Linux or a NAS device. You can also log in to its VPN service directly from a web browser, which gives you a browser-within-a-browser from which you can access the websites of your choice.
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It doesn't have a very wide range of VPN endpoints. The available countries are the USA, UK, Switzerland, Canada, Netherlands and Sweden. You can pay for your Private Tunnel data allowance or subscription using bitcoin (via Stripe). Apple gift cards are also accepted, but only via the iOS application, which limits the anonymity of your transaction.
Private Tunnel is headquartered in the USA, which doesn't currently have any mandatory data-retention laws, but the company doesn't have the kind of explicit no-logging policy of some of its US rivals, such as Private Internet Access. Instead, Private Tunnel says that "log files stored on our servers are only used for monitoring server performance, identifying software bugs, identifying any potential security breaches, and for the purpose of identifying abusive users."
Although none of Private Tunnel's servers gave us access to Netflix in the USA, we were impressed by its video-streaming performance on both iPlayer in the UK and region-locked YouTube content in the USA. In our FTP download test it was one of the best-performing services, and one of the few that saw consistent speeds of over 5Mbits/sec from a US server.
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In general, we were pleased with the speeds and performance seen from Private Tunnel's servers, but the small number of available endpoint locations will disappoint users who need to virtually "be" in a wide range of locations. Also, its ambiguous logging policy is likely to put off those in serious need of anonymity and security.
However, Private Tunnel's non-expiring data packages are great for users who only occasionally need a VPN – for example, those who want to be able to access UK websites as though they were at home while travelling. Its 12-month subscription-based incarnation is also very reasonably priced, making it a decent pick.